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Why Obama Should Postpone Giving Advanced Weapons to Egypt: A Guide for Congress

They were celebrating in Cairo the arrival of four new U.S. F-16s and the likelihood that the United States would give $2 billion in aid to Egypt this year.

They were also celebrating the warm welcome given to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Is there a contradiction here?

Also, given the ongoing violence in Egypt and the Islamist regime’s declaration of a state of emergency in three governates -- a policy it and other opposition groups always rejected under the previous government -- it is reasonable for the United States to postpone military gifts of F16s, advanced tanks, and other weapons to Cairo.

The credible Popular Current movement is starting to document killings and tortures by the police of captured demonstrators.

Regarding the state of emergency -- and the state of democracy in Egypt -- Mohamed Al-Kholi, a member of the upper house of Egypt’s parliament that approved the proposal, tweeted

It is clear the Islamist-dominated council rejects listening to any kind of opposition and that it is just interested in rubber-stamping Morsi’s authoritarian measures.

Emad Gad, a political analyst for the state-controlled al-Ahram newspaper, warned:

The mobilization of [the] Shura Council [upper house of parliament] to endorse Morsi’s authoritarian measures offers renewed proof that the council exists solely to rubber-stamp Morsi’s decrees and promote the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

That was especially brave, by the way, since Gad knows the Muslim Brotherhood will soon be choosing his new boss (see below).

Another point, that to my knowledge hasn't been used in Congress yet: last November, the International Monetary Fund suspended discussions on a $4.3 billion loan to Egypt for two months because of the unrest in the country. The talks are now being renewed, but the loan still hasn't been granted. If the IMF can suspend negotiations over domestic repression in Egypt -- and in that case, it could be argued that a delay hurt ordinary Egyptians -- the United States can certainly do likewise in a situation where no Egyptian citizens will be hurt by a delay in providing planes and tanks to the military.

What are the arguments raised in Congress so far for stopping the arms transfer?

Senator Rand Paul remarked:

I think it is a blunder of the first proportion to send sophisticated weapons to a country that allowed a mob to attack our embassy and to burn our flag. ... I find it objectionable to send weapons … to a country that allowed a mob chanting "death to America" to threaten our American diplomats.

This makes sense, but is still a marginal position in Congress.

Senator James Inhofe added an argument:

For decades, the U.S. has had a good relationship with Egypt, training their troops and working together to maintain peace and stability in the region. … Under Muslim Brotherhood President Mursi, this relationship has come to a halt. We need to continue to support the Egyptian military, which Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood have currently distanced themselves from. Egypt’s military is our friend -- Mursi is our enemy.

A third argument can be made regarding Egypt’s stance toward Israel, but the Egyptian government can argue that it formally maintains the peace treaty. There are other signs of trouble, though: for example, the government prosecutor’s office has now claimed that Israel has created a massive conspiracy to destroy Egypt’s economic facilities.

Fourth, military aid -- Egypt gets $1.3 billion a year -- and gifts of advanced weapons are given to countries that actually do something for the United States. It is clear that Egypt's new regime will not support U.S. policy toward Iran, nor promote the Arab-Israeli or Israel-Palestinian peace process. The main thing that the Egyptian regime did for the United States was supposedly help broker an Israel-Hamas ceasefire. For this, the Brotherhood government is endlessly praised by Obama administration officials, including John Kerry in his confirmation hearings. Yet all that this amounted to was Egypt saving its Hamas client from a worse drubbing by Israel.

As for Egypt cooperating in blocking arms from reaching Hamas over the Egypt-Gaza border, this cooperation remains to be seen.