By Shashank Bengali Tribune Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Members of Congress appeared divided Sunday over whether to curtail U.S. aid to the Egyptian military after the bloody crackdown against pro-Islamist demonstrators last week in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
The split reflects the paucity of good options for Washington in responding to Egypt’s crisis. Advocates of cutting off the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid say it would boost America’s standing in the Arab world. Opponents argue that it could destroy whatever leverage the United States retains in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
“There are no good choices in Egypt,” said Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “The fact is there’s no good guys there.”
But King said the United States needs to maintain its relationship with the generals in Cairo to preserve Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, to prevent al-Qaida militants from gaining a haven and to ensure continued access for U.S. warships and commercial traffic to the Suez Canal.
“I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military,” King said on “Fox News Sunday.”
As the Egyptian military weighed whether to outlaw the Muslim Brotherhood, the group’s supporters vowed to defy the state of emergency by organizing more demonstrations to protest the ouster last month of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who visited Egypt this month in a failed attempt to broker a political settlement, was among several Republicans who urged the Obama administration to cut off aid. Graham said the crackdown by the Egyptian military, led by Gen. Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi, risked fueling a domestic insurgency that could threaten Israel’s security and wider U.S. interests in the region.
“Somebody needs to look Sissi in the eye and say, ‘You’re going to destroy Egypt. You’re going to doom your country to a beggar state. You’re going to create an insurgency for generations to come,’” Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Democrats have largely supported President Barack Obama’s decision not to curtail the aid, much of which has already been disbursed for 2013. Obama last week announced he had canceled a planned joint U.S.-Egyptian military training exercise but he has declined to call Morsi’s ouster a coup, which would trigger an automatic cutoff of aid, or impose other sanctions.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., chairman of the progressive caucus in the House, said the policy was undermining America’s image in the Arab world. Ellison said he would advocate a temporary suspension of aid until the military ended the attacks on protesters, and took clear steps to transition to civilian-led democratic rule.
“I would cut off aid but engage in intense diplomacy in Egypt and in the region to try to say, ‘Look, we will restore aid when you stop the bloodshed in the street and set up a path toward democracy that you were on before,’” Ellison said on ABC’s “This Week.”