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A Coup by Any Other Name Allows US Aid to Continue

If the ouster of Morsi is labeled a coup, the U.S. government cannot continue providing aid. But for now, the hands on the US aid spigot will ignore the "c" (coup) word, and U.S. aid to Egypt will continue flowing.
If what happened in Egypt on July 3 was a coup, US aid must be cut off. No one in the White House is using the "c" word.

If what happened in Egypt on July 3 was a coup, US aid must be cut off. No one in the White House is using the "c" word.
Photo Credit: Lori Lowenthal Marcus

The fact that the White House has decided to continue providing aid to Egypt, despite what has taken place in that country over the past week, is big, big news.

The White House Spokesperson, Jay Carney, with his frequent invocation of the delay weapon known as calling a sticky situation “complicated,” made clear to reporters that the administration will take its time reviewing the matter before making any  final decision on U.S. aid to post-Morsi Egypt.

“I think it would not be in the best interest of the United States to immediately change our assistance programs,” Carney said.

Why is this big news?

Because the overthrow of the Egyptian regime headed by former President Mohamed Morsi is, technically speaking, a coup.  What happened was a coup backed and initiated by mass support for Morsi’s overthrow – technically called a “democratic coup,” but a coup is the correct term, nonetheless.

That matters, because the United States is forbidden, by law, to provide aid to governments which assume power through a coup.

And there are those who immediately pointed out the dangers of supporting any government which takes power as the result of a coup.  Most famously, perhaps, was Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

“Reluctantly, I believe that we have to suspend aid until such time as there is a new constitution and a free and fair election,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face The Nation.”

Other U.S. politicians in leadership positions refused to join McCain in his call to suspend aid, some by refusing to call the ouster of Morsi a “coup,” while others simply refused to address the pertinent legal issue and instead preferred to focus – understandably, if not responsibly – on what would most promote U.S. interests in Egypt: stability.

Egypt’s Ambassador to the U.S., Mohamed Tawfik, consistently insists that the ouster of Morsi – his own boss until just days ago – does not amount to a coup.

In a National Public Radio interview with Tawfik from July 5, the interviewer attempts to corner the ambassador, forcing him to admit that Morsi’s overthrow was a military coup that renders whatever comes next as illegitimate, Tawfik is resolute.  The interviewer paints the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were a benign political organization which has now been thwarted after dutifully following all the rules.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Tawfik, your country, Egypt, has this problem, which is how to deal with the Muslim Brotherhood, a very old and powerful institution in Egyptian life. And one reading of what’s happened this week is, if you’re an active member of the brotherhood, is, well, so much for electoral politics. You can win the presidency. You can win the parliament. You can win a referendum on the constitution that your guys drafted, and it’ll all be negated. Take other means of trying to advance your cause, not elections. Try to subvert the state instead, the way perhaps you used to do.

TAWFIK: That would be a completely wrong way to proceed. What we want to do now is we want to correct the mistakes made by President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We want an inclusive process. We want everybody to be included. We want every single Egyptian, including Muslim Brotherhood members, to feel that they own the country. Everybody should enjoy their rights.

We cannot accept to have a situation in which the whole country is run for the interests of a particular group. This was the case with Mubarak, and this – again, unfortunately, Morsi repeated the same mistake. We have to stop making that mistake. This is the time for true democracy. The people of Egypt will accept nothing less.

So the US government is in a bit of a pickle.  Does it withhold support from a leadership backed by the masses of the Egyptian people? And does it do so despite pledging enormous support to Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government as it giddily dispensed with freedoms and commitments of fairness and diversity so fast that millions took to the streets to boot them out?

Another significant factor the U.S. has to consider, is that the Egyptian economy is so far past being called a train wreck, there are no longer even any railroad ties with which people can make fires to warm themselves.  The only powerhouse industry in Egypt used to be tourism, and the past few years of relentless violence has crippled that industry.  Unless the US provides essential aid, what had been the most stable Arab country, the anchor of the Arab world, may disintegrate into, well, what so much of the rest of the non-oil-rich Arab world looks like.

For now, the U.S. government will tread slowly down the path of “looking into the various issues involved,” in this very “complicated situation.”  While the lawyers are looking, the hands on the spigot will ignore the “c” word, and the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt – the vast majority of which goes to the military – will keep flowing.

About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.


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3 Responses to “A Coup by Any Other Name Allows US Aid to Continue”

  1. As Ms. Marcus explains, even for the Obama administration, every once in a while, reality intrudes. I've no doubt that the President himself was genuinely disappointed by the Brotherhood's departure from power. On the other hand, as I saw in another column somewhere today, you can't have a coup d'etat unless you had an etat to start with. Calling any Arab government run by frum Muslims a state, rather than a religious institution with control over territory, is a huge mistake. So sending them on their way can't help but be an improvement, call it what you will.
    Thank you, Ms. Marcus, once again, for laying out the facts that really matter.

  2. Ch Hoffman says:

    It is a tough assignment, being a "reporter" for the Jewish Press. Reconciling reality with the pathetic hatred for Obama while trying to find a way to maintain an anti-Egypt position regardless of the facts on the ground.

    The administration obviously feels that it will have more leverage with the Egyptian gov if it continues aid; to Israel itself it doesn't matter since the new administration is not the least bit likely to be more hostile to Israel than Morsi (and the real Egypt-Israel relationship is determined by the same generals who are still in control of the military).

    If GW Bush or any of the current reactionary ideologues in the Rep party were running the show in DC, the JP wouldn't even comment on American involvement; but it will not take a pass at any point to vent its hatred for Obama – to the point of losing any credibility as a source for anything beyond "what's happening in Boro Park".

  3. Lori Lowenthal Marcus says:

    The only criticism in the article is for a Republican, and there is a backhanded compliment for refusing to stop aid when an Islamist dictator was overthrown, despite the clarity of the law. So sad when the trigger is so easily pulled.

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