Kerry quietly approves $1.3 billion in arms to Egypt

US secretary of state waives congressional restrictions on aid meant to promote democratic reforms

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, in March. (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)
US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, shakes hands with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, in March. (photo credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin)

US Secretary of State John Kerry quietly approved sending $1.3 billion in arms to Egypt in May, waiving the requirements of a US law meant to promote democratic development in the post-revolutionary country.

Pursuant to the law, for the $1.3 billion to flow, the secretary of state must certify that the Egyptian government “is 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.” The law also requires that Egypt honor its peace treaty with Israel.

In a memo written on May 9, Kerry said the aid would go forward, despite stating 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 memo was obtained by Reuters.

On Tuesday the US Congress erupted in anger over the sentencing of 43 NGO workers, including 16 Americans, for up to five years in prison in a case against foreign-funded pro-democracy groups. The verdict was strongly denounced by Kerry and a host of powerful lawmakers, who charged that the trial and verdict were politically motivated and incompatible with Egypt’s transition to democratic rule.

And on Wednesday, Egypt’s state prosecutor announced that 12 of the country’s best-known bloggers and activists were headed for trial on charges of instigating violence during a March demonstration against President Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

In light of the apparent crackdown on democratic institutions, Congressmen Frank Wolf and Gerry Connolly circulated a letter in the House this week, addressed to Morsi, threatening a cutoff of US aid and asking him to step in and reverse the policy of prosecuting foreign NGO workers.

“In order for the US government and the American people to have any confidence that the Egyptian government is undertaking a genuine transition to a democratic state, under civilian control, where the freedoms of assembly, association, religion and expression are guaranteed and rule of law is upheld, we must see a swift and satisfactory resolution to this case that takes into full account the concerns expressed in this letter, including revisions to the proposed NGO law,” reads the letter, which was obtained by US media outlet The Daily Beast.

The lawmakers said that there was no way the Obama administration would be able to certify that Egypt was progressing toward democracy, given the jail sentences. But according to the report, they didn’t know that Kerry had already waived the congressional restrictions only weeks earlier.

In waiving those restrictions, Kerry cited US national interests, including tighter security in the Sinai Peninsula, helping to prevent attacks from Gaza to Israel, countering terrorism and securing transit through the Suez Canal, according to Reuters.

The US State Department also waived aid restrictions last year. Then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton announced the decision publicly and explained its reasoning to reporters. In contrast, Kerry’s waiver was sent without fanfare to congressional appropriations committees, and most members of Congress remained unaware of the waiver, reported The Daily Beast.

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