U.S. law makes it illegal to transfer arms to countries undergoing a coup, which is why, until Friday, the Obama administration held off on the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a $1 billion deal negotiated between the two countries. The administration cited concerns over instability resulting from the coup that unseated President Mohammad Morsi from office, as well as legal precedent. State department lawyers submitted a legal opinion to the Obama administration, claiming that the U.S. was not required to make a formal determination as to whether or not a coup took place.
The decision to continue channeling military aid to Egypt is seen as a way out of a difficult situation for the Obama administration, as they fear that cutting aid to Egypt would further destabilize the country and lead to unrest in Israel. The law has been manipulated to allow the deal to go through in the interest of national security.
Egypt has been a flashpoint during the Arab Spring. Out of the revolution that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak emerged the Muslim Brotherhood, with President Mohammad Morsi as the new head of state.
Egypt is a leader in the Middle East, and a country whose security pact with Israel sets the precedent for peace among nations in the Levant. These international relations put the U.S. in a precarious place; the White House must attempt to hold together peace in a volatile region, when much of the funding for that peace flows through military aid to Egypt. The $1.5 billion in aid that the U.S. delivers annually gives a sense of security to Egypt’s military leaders and bolsters the Egyptian economy, much of which is tied to the military.
Since the Egyptian military overthrew President Morsi, pro-Brotherhood sympathizers have clashed with the military in protests that have turned violent and left dozens dead. On Wednesday, Army Chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on people to take to the streets to protest the deteriorating situation, in his opinion, caused by extremism on the part of Morsi’s backers.
The military is still holding Morsi on allegations that he colluded with Hamas to free prisoners from jail, as well as kill police officers and soldiers during the 2011 protests. The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have denied the allegations on behalf of Morsi, and are demanding his immediate release.
The Tamarod movement — a group that organized the protests that led to the coup — is calling for supporters to take part in Friday’s demonstrations, as the Muslim Brotherhood calls for civil war. The Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Mohammed Badie has fervently denounced the actions of the Egyptian military: "I swear by God that what Sisi did in Egypt is more criminal than if he had carried an axe and demolished the holy Kaaba stone by stone”.
Stay tuned as violence in Egypt brews once more. For now, the F-16s fly.
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