Yesterday, the Hosni Mubarak-led Egyptian government unleashed the worst violence on pro-democracy protesters yet, as it hired men to attack demonstrators with “machetes, straight razors, clubs and stones,” trampled demonstrators with horses and camels, and pelted people with molotov cocktails. Throughout all of this violence, the Egyptian military, supposedly tasked to keep the peace, has refused to intervene.
While the U.S. does not have direct control over the events in Egypt, we are far from powerless. One fact that may be unclear to many Americans is that the Mubarak’s regime is an enormous benificiary of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Since 1981, Mubarak’s government has received $60 billion in U.S. aid; last year, Egypt received $1.6 billion in aid, most of it for the military. By threatening to suspend, freeze, or cut back on this aid and other forms of diplomatic, military, and economic cooperation, the United States can use the power it has to push the Egyptian government and military to end its crackdown on demonstrators and move towards real democratic reforms.
The Egypt Working Group — a group of scholars and former government officials including CAP’s Brian Katulis — has called on the Obama administration to freeze military aid to Egypt. While the Obama administration can take certain steps to slow or halt aid unilaterally, Congress also has the power to use legislation to cut back on aid. In fact, Congress has debated amendments to foreign appropriations bills that would cut back on military aid to Egypt several times in the past. For example, in 2005, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), introduced an amendment that would have redirected Egypt’s $750 million military subsidy to funding for children’s health and malaria treatment in Africa. On the floor of the House, he gave an eloquent speech in favor of “sending a strong message” to Egypt that it should make “political, democratic and human rights reforms.” He called the vote on his amendment a “vote for kids. It is a vote against the status quo of Egypt’s dictatorship“:
PITTS: Reducing Egypt’s military subsidy by $750 million will serve to send a strong message. Money sent to a nation, even a strong ally like Egypt, that refuses to make the necessary political, democratic and human rights reforms should be redirected to a place that better represents our values. In this case I can think of no better use for this funding than to treat and prevent malaria in Africa. According to the CBO, this transfer will result in a savings of $400 million in FY 2006 in net outlays. A vote for this amendment is a vote for more responsible Federal spending. It is a vote for American values. It is a vote for kids. It is a vote against the status quo of Egypt’s dictatorship.
In the end, the status quo won and the Pitts amendment was defeated. Yet it netted the votes of 87 members of Congress, 60 whom still serve there. A few years later, Rep. David Obey (D-WI) introduced an amendment that would have cut $100 million from military aid to Egypt and redirected the funding to HIV/AIDS treatment and humanitarian aid to Sudan. His amendment came much closer to passing, failing in a 198-225 vote.
Altogether, these amendments won the support of 144 members of Congress who still serve there today. If these legislators felt strongly enough to cut funding to Egypt in the past to speak up for democracy, surely they understand the importance of doing so now, as Mubarak’s government continues to brutalize what is perhaps the largest pro-democracy movement in the country’s history.
Yet as of yet, few members of Congress have called for taking this step. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) has called for ending all aid to the country until a democratic transition begins, and Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) has also called for ending financial assistance, saying we must lead by “our deeds.” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has said that “all options are on the table,” and Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) rebuked calls to cut aid last week, saying such calls were “premature.”
The U.S. is not powerless as we sit and watch the demonstrations and resulting crackdown in Egypt. The enormous amount of aid we give to Egypt provides us leverage over events in that country, and we should be using the power we have to exercise that leverage on behalf of our values.
Speaking to Bloomberg News, Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) — who chairs the Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs — said that if Mubarak doesn’t immediately begin a transition from power, the “foreign aid will be cut off.” Watch it:
,Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also moved in the direction of saying we need to cut off aid: “In no way can America turn a blind eye to this ruthless assault on ordinary citizens,” Merkley said on the chamber floor. “If we see a repeat of this violence, America must send a very strong message: There will we no further aid to the Mubarak government.”
House_of_Roberts writes, “Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) rebuked calls to cut aid last week, saying such calls were ‘premature.’ That was last week. As of dawn today in Egypt, it’s time.”