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Leahy Threatens Egyptian Aid If Mubarak Stays in Power

The state TV interview with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman was kind of a joke. Suleiman rejected the early departure of Hosni Mubarak from the government due to the risk to “stability and security” (because Egypt looks so stable). He intimated that satellite TV stations like Al Jazeera “are arousing you against your country.” He promised Constitutional changes, elections in August or September and “investigations” into the fighting at Tahrir Square yesterday that killed 13 and wounded 1,2000, according to the Egyptian health ministry (with perhaps more killed by sniper fire in the past few hours). But fundamentally, Suleiman offered nothing of value to the protesters. While he said that discussions with the opposition could not begin without protesters leaving Tahrir Square, he even claimed to already be negotiating with them, to which the lead protest groups replied that they have had no contact with him.

As Marc Lynch said, things are reaching an endgame. The country with the most leverage over Mubarak, by virtue of the $1.5 billion in annual foreign aid, is the United States. Mubarak basically defied the Obama Administration’s suggestion that the orderly transition of power must begin immediately.

By unleashing violence and refusing the demand for an immediate, meaningful transition, Mubarak has now violated two clear red lines laid down by the President. There must be consequences. It’s time to meet escalation with escalation and lay out, in private and public, that the Egyptian military now faces a clear and painful choice: push Mubarak out now and begin a meaningful transition, or else face international isolation and a major rupture with the United States.

The Administration doesn’t have the only carrots and sticks here. Congress holds the power of the purse, and they can cut off Egyptian foreign aid whenever they like. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the State Department and international programs, threatened this cutoff on MSNBC last night.

“We have a lot of aid in the pipeline now, that pipeline would be turned off,” Leahy said. “There is nobody, Republican or Democratic in the Senate and I suspect in the House, that’s going to vote for an aid package for Egypt under these circumstances.” […]

Leahy laid out conditions for continued aid to Egypt, which receives some $1.3 billion each year from the United States.

“Aid will continue to Egypt if you have somebody that comes in with credibility that tries to help the people trying to help those that are unemployed, those who are not being fed, somebody who wants to try and bring some order so one of their largest cash projects in Egypt tourism can come back,” Leahy said.

While Leahy talks a good game here, while he’s been joined by Democrats like Gary Ackerman and Lloyd Doggett, and while hundreds of current members of Congress have voted in the past to end foreign aid to Egypt, to stop this aid you would have to defy the defense contractors who profit off of it.

United States taxpayers have funneled more than $60 billion of aid into Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, but more than half of the money has been spent supplying weapons to the country’s military, an arrangement that critics say has benefited American military contractors more than ordinary Egyptians.

About $34 billion of the aid to Egypt has come in the form of grants that Congress requires Egypt to spend on American military hardware, according to statistics from the Congressional Research Service. Those contracts include helicopter engines built by GE Aviation in Lynn and transmitters for Egypt’s Navy built by Raytheon in Tewksbury.

“Egypt has a real need for foreign aid, but not the kind of foreign aid they are getting,” said Geoffrey Wawro, history professor and director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas. “They need more butter than guns. They need development aid, but development aid does not serve as a stimulus plan for American factories.”

It would take a lot of fortitude from a Congress that has not traditionally shown any to divert this aid. The President would have to provide leadership which has so far been lacking. He’s preferred a quiet, diplomatic approach. But with blood in the streets, and a public defiance from the Mubarak government, Congress and the President must act.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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