The predominantly Muslim nation of Egypt might be celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, but there's nothing peaceful about this year's spiritual fasting. Instead, Egypt is experiencing bloodshed on the streets in the aftermath of a military coup.
It has been two years since the Arab Spring transformed this Middle Eastern nation. Mass protests brought down President Hosni Mubarak, and Mohamed Morsi became the country's first democratically elected leader. Morsi and fellow members of the Muslim Brotherhood movement were unable to expand either Egypt's economy or political representation amongst minority factions -- and last week the military staged a coup d'état.
We can't categorize what took place in Cairo in any other terms. Using force to remove the ruling party and suspend the constitution, both of which the majority of Egyptians had voted in favor of, seems to fit the classic definition of a military coup.
The Obama Administration doesn't see the events in Egypt in the same light.
"There are millions of people on the ground who do not think it was a coup," said State Department press secretary Jen Psaki.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration still hasn't determined if the apparent coup d'état was indeed a coup, and that the U.S. will "take the time necessary to review what has taken place."
At stake is U.S. law that requires all non-humanitarian aid to be cut off for "the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d'état or decree or, after the date of enactment of this act, a coup d'état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role."
Currently, the U.S. has committed $1.5 billion to Egypt for 2013. Approximately $1.3 billion of that is direct military assistance. If the coup is declared a coup, that money disappears. And the White House has stated cutting off funding to this long-time ally would not be in our "national security interests." In fact, the U.S. is preparing to deliver four F-16 fighter jets already promised as part of the 2010 aid package.
Not all of Washington favors the continuation of aid. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., all have called on President Barack Obama to cut off funding. While these long-term lawmakers might be in the minority, we support their position.
It is a position based on the law of the land.
"I don't believe it's in our security interests to go along with the overthrow of a democratically elected government," Levin said earlier this week.
We fully understand the precarious tightrope the president is walking. Egypt represents an extremely important strategic partner in the Middle East. And the Muslim Brotherhood is nowhere near our top choice in leading democratic reform in the volatile region.
But they were elected by the people. For the military there to override the results of the ballot by removing Morsi, arresting other party leaders, and gunning down their supporters in the streets does not speak well of the democratic process.
The U.S. message is equally conflicting: We support democracy, except when we don't like the results. That will be a tough sell for others we're attempting to influence.
Our foreign policy was much easier when we merely supported stability, not democracy. It led to the country being allies with a lot of thugs around the world. But we made the switch, and we need to be consistent.
And we also need to adhere to our own laws. If they need amending, so be it. But as it stands, we should not be sending arms or military assistance to Egypt. A coup is a coup. The White House and Congress need to uphold what previously has been negotiated.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry