U.S. spending bill restores aid to Egypt, includes $1.5 billion

Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:02pm EST

By Patricia Zengerle
    WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress' new
spending bill would restore more than $1.5 billion in military
and economic aid to Egypt, which had been largely cut off after
Egypt's military ousted President Mohamed Mursi last summer.
    The bill includes up to $1.3 billion in military assistance,
and $250 million in economic support for Cairo, but ties the
funding to the Egyptian government taking steps toward restoring
democracy.
    The funds also would only be available if the U.S. Secretary
of State certifies to congressional appropriations committees
that the Cairo government is sustaining its strategic
relationship with the United States and meeting its obligations
under the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
    The restoration of aid to Egypt could set a precedent for
assistance to any country after a coup, despite differences of
opinion between Mursi's supporters and Egypt's current
government over what to call the military takeover.
     Supporters had argued that restoring the funding, but
subjecting it to conditions, struck an appropriate balance
between pushing Cairo to embrace democratic reforms and
continuing the U.S. commitment to Egypt.
    "If the military continues its repressive tactics, arresting
democracy activists and does not hold free and fair elections,
the certifications will not be possible and U.S. aid will be cut
off," Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate subcommittee
responsible for the aid, said in a speech on the chamber floor
on Tuesday.
    
    COUP - OR NOT? 
    President Barack Obama's administration announced on Oct. 9
- after authorities in Cairo used violence to put down protests
- that it would withhold deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft
and other military equipment, as well as $250 million in cash
aid, from Egypt's military-backed government until it made
progress on democracy and human rights. The administration held
off, however, from officially declaring events in Egypt a coup.
    The actions prompted many lawmakers to call for a change in
U.S. policy, worried that Washington was threatening its close
relationship with a country that has been an important ally in
an unstable region.
    The restoration of aid has already prompted criticism. The
Washington Post said in an editorial on Tuesday that Egypt's
"bogus" democracy does not deserve U.S. aid, saying that
certifications that Egypt is restoring democracy cannot be
honestly made.
    "Nor would they be wise: The military's repressive methods
cannot stabilize Egypt, much less address its severe economic
and social problems," the newspaper wrote.
    Leahy and other leaders of the Senate and House of
Representatives appropriations subcommittees responsible for the
aid authorization said it imposes stricter conditions on Cairo
than the Obama administration had asked for or were included in
proposed legislation in the U.S. Senate.
    Backers of Mursi, Egypt's first freely elected president,
say his removal was a coup, reversing the gains of a popular
uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
    The army rejects allegations from Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood
that it deposed Mursi in a coup and says it was responding to
the will of the people.
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