The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

August 18, 2013

Congress split on cutting off aid to Egypt

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are split over whether the U.S. should cut off military aid to Egypt, highlighting the difficult choices facing the Obama administration amid spiraling violence on the streets of an important Middle East ally.

Democratic leaders have generally supported the president's approach. But on Sunday, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he would end aid to Egypt. Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and is co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

"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 towards democracy that you were on before," Ellison said. "In my mind, there's no way to say that this was not a coup. It is. We should say so. And then follow our own law, which says we cannot fund the coup leaders."

Among Republicans, there were growing calls to eliminate military aid to Egypt. But others were more hesitant.

Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said curtailing aid could reduce U.S. influence over Egypt's interim government, which controls access to strategic resources, including the Suez Canal.

"We certainly shouldn't cut off all aid," said King, who chairs the House panel on counterterrorism and intelligence.

King said there are no good choices in Egypt. Ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, was democratically elected. But, King said, the group has not demonstrated a commitment to democracy.

"The fact is, there's no good guys there," King said. "But of the two, I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military."

The split among members of the same political party illustrates the uncertainty facing President Barack Obama as he tries to navigate volatile developments in Egypt, where crackdowns last week left more than 600 people dead and thousands more injured.

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