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Kerry Quietly Waives Congress' Restrictions on Egypt Military Aid

Tue, June 11, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry talks to the media. (Photo: © Reuters)

Secretary of State John Kerry talks to the media. (Photo: © Reuters)


Congress erupted in anger last week when Egyptian courts sentenced 43 non-governmental workers, including 16 Americans, to jail terms of up to five years for working in organizations to help Egyptians realize democracy. Egyptian authorities said the organizations were not registered with the government.

Yet, what most members of Congress did not know was that just a few weeks earlier, on May 10, Secretary of State John Kerry quietly waived the restrictions lawmakers had put in place that would prevent the U.S. from sending the Egyptian military $1.3 billion worth of weapons this year if Egypt did not “make progress” in implementing and respecting basic human rights.

Congress specifically made a law to restrict and even stop military aid to Egypt until and "unless the State Department certifies that Egypt is making progress on basic freedoms and human rights."

The State Department’s notification of Kerry’s move, which was never released to the public, was obtained by Reuters.

Kerry's action came despite stating in a May 9 memo that, "We are not satisfied with the extent of Egypt’s progress and are pressing for a more inclusive democratic process and the strengthening of key democratic institutions."

The law that allows the State Department to give Egypt $1.3 billion each year in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) specifies that to get the money, the secretary of state must certify that Egypt is honoring its peace treaty with Israel as well as "supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law."

Human rights groups believe Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi is turning away from democratic freedoms, and favoring proposals for judicial reform that critics see as a way to get rid of judges perceived as hostile to the government.

In a memo obtained by Reuters, Kerry wrote that, "A strong U.S. security partnership with Egypt, underpinned by FMF (Foreign Military Financing), maintains a channel to Egyptian military leadership, who are key opinion makers in the country."

"A decision to waive restrictions on FMF to Egypt is necessary to uphold these interests as we encourage Egypt to continue its transition to democracy," he added.

The memo was sent to congressional appropriations committees without fanfare and some aides did not know of its existence.

"The unjust convictions of Egyptian and American citizens by the Egyptian government, for nothing more than working to defend the fundamental rights of all Egyptians, is appalling and offensive to people of goodwill in Egypt and across the globe," said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee’s state and foreign-ops subcommittee. "If Egypt continues on this repressive path, it will be increasingly difficult for the United States to support President Morsi’s government."