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August 26. 2013 7:23PM

Sen. Kelly Ayotte: Why I support suspending aid to Egypt

AMERICA'S FOREIGN aid must reflect our nation's values and serve our interests. Assistance to other countries must always be carefully monitored, and it must never be given unconditionally. On balance, when the actions of a country that receives our aid no longer reflect our values and serve our interests, our foreign aid should be reduced or suspended. We have reached that point with Egypt.

The Egyptian military's political repression and recent massacre of hundreds of civilian protesters is totally inconsistent with basic American values and does not serve our long-term interests.

One of those values is the rule of law, and America's law is clear. In the wake of a coup, U.S. law requires the suspension of most aid to a country "whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'état or decree..."

Although the Obama administration has refused to say so, it is clear that the events in Egypt constitute a coup: the Egyptian military used force to remove a democratically elected civilian leader from power. We cannot continue to ignore our own law.

Recommending that the U.S. suspend aid to Egypt is not a decision I have made lightly. I have been a strong supporter of aid to Egypt, which has been a longtime strategic ally in the Middle East and remains an important country in the Arab and Muslim world.However, America's credibility is at stake. Before the military's deplorable crackdown, the United States urged it to not resort to violence and to instead pursue an inclusive political process to restore civilian rule and establish a democracy that respects minority rights.

The Egyptian military ignored our requests and has instead pursued a brutal crackdown that has resulted in more than 1,000 deaths. In addition, while extremists have attacked the churches and homes of Coptic Christians, the military has often done nothing and simply stood by and watched — shameful inaction that has only encouraged more attacks on this vulnerable minority. Egypt's military leaders appear to believe that no matter what actions they take — including gunning down protesters and ignoring attacks against Coptic Christians — American aid will continue. That must not be the case.

I disagree with the argument that opposing the military's murder of Egyptian civilians and suspending aid is akin to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, a group described as the "mother of all Islamist movements."

In its early years, the Egyptian Brotherhood often incited Islamist violence. While it renounced such tactics decades ago and joined the political process, many of the Brotherhood's objectives remain deeply troubling. The Brotherhood seeks to increase the role of sharia as the basis of law, threatening the rights of women and religious minorities, as well as undermining free speech. There is no doubt that the Brotherhood's values and goals are fundamentally at odds with core American principles and interests.

But turning a blind eye to a military coup and violent crackdown because of our appropriate distaste for the Muslim Brotherhood is short-sighted and dangerous. The incompetence and policies of the Morsi government demonstrated the inability of the Muslim Brotherhood to effectively govern Egypt. The Brotherhood was on track to almost certainly be trounced in the upcoming elections, which would have peacefully removed it from power.

But the military's arrest of Brotherhood leaders, killing of protesters and discussions of banning the Brotherhood will only increase the chances that Brotherhood members will view the political process as a sham and instead turn to terrorism.

We must not forget that the core of al-Qaida has strong Egyptian ties. One of the intellectual fathers of the modern day violent Islamist movement is the late Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian. Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker on 9/11, also called Egypt home. The current leader of al-Qaida is Ayman al-Zawahiri, another Egyptian. The Egyptian military's crackdown, with assistance from America's money and weapons, will prove to be a marketing and recruitment windfall for Zawahiri.

We should not be fooled by reports of the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood. The military's brutal actions are not killing the Brotherhood. But government violence threatens to transform the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt from a political party with deeply troubling views (but that had turned its back on violence and upheld the Camp David Accords) into another violent terrorist organization on Israel's doorstep.

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has millions of supporters who will either participate in the political process peacefully or go to war against it, which would have generational consequences for Israel, the United States and the people of Egypt.

By cracking down on protesters with help from American guns, helicopters and money, the Egyptian military risks creating the next generation of Islamist terrorists. That is inconsistent with our values and it certainly doesn't serve our interests. That's why I support suspending aid to Egypt until the country's military changes course and establishes a process for legitimate and inclusive elections.

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Republican of Nashua, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.


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