U.S. Aid Will Flow To Egypt Despite Coup, Because We Won’t Call It A Coup

Not surprisingly, the United States is not going to place aid to Egypt's military in legal jeopardy by calling this month's events a coup.

US Egyptian Flags

As expected, the Obama Administration is taken the position that military and other aid can continue flowing to Egypt despite the fact that the military overthrew the nation’s civilian government earlier this month:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has concluded it is not legally required to determine whether the Egyptian military engineered a coup d’état in ousting President Mohamed Morsi, a senior administration official said Thursday, a finding that will allow it to continue to funnel $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt each year.

The legal opinion, submitted to the White House by lawyers from the State Department and other agencies, amounts to an escape hatch for President Obama and his advisers, who had concluded that cutting off financial assistance could destabilize Egypt at an already fragile moment and would pose a threat to neighbors like Israel.

The senior official did not describe the legal reasoning behind the finding, saying only, “The law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.”

“We will not say it was a coup, we will not say it was not a coup, we will just not say,” the official said.

News of the administration’s legal determination began circulating on Capitol Hill after a deputy secretary of state, William J. Burns, briefed House and Senate members in closed-door sessions earlier on Thursday.

The White House said it would continue to use financial aid as a lever to pressure Egypt’s new government to move swiftly with a democratic transition. On Wednesday, the Pentagon delayed the shipment of four F-16 fighter jets to the Egyptian Air Force to signal the administration’s displeasure with the chaotic situation in Egypt.

Such case-by-case decisions, the official said, would be the model for how the United States disbursed aid in the coming months. The administration might also “reprogram” assistance to promote a transition, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the White House’s internal deliberations.

“We will work with the Congress to determine how best to continue assistance to Egypt in a manner that encourages Egypt’s interim government to quickly and responsibly transition back to a stable, democratic, inclusive, civilian-led government that addresses the needs and respects the rights and freedoms of all its people,” the official said.

As I said when this issue first came up, it was clear from the beginning that the United States was not going to take any of the steps that would require it to label what happened in Egypt a “coup”:

[I]n the end whether what happened in the Egypt last week meets the classical or, more importantly statutory definition of a coup, doesn’t really matter. When Hosni Mubarak was forced from office in February 2011, it was largely due to pressure from the military leadership that had served under him, and that leadership continued to serve as Egypt’s de facto rulers for more than a year until being replaced by Morsi and the rest of the civilian leadership just over a year ago. There was no determination at that point that a military coup had taken place, and the aid from Washington to the Egyptian military continued to flow. I suspect that the exact same thing will happen this time around.


It’s entirely cynical, of course, but then there’s a lot of that going on in Washington in general and foreign relations in particular. In this case, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. is going to give up the leverage that continued aid to the Egyptian military supposedly gives us.

There are simply too many interests at stake for the Administration to have allowed a technicality to cut off aid to Egypt. Yes, we did halt, at least temporarily, the delivery of four out of a total of 20 F-16s that Egypt had ordered back in 2009, but that halt looks for all the world to be a temporary one designed to “send a message” to the Egyptian military. Given this announcement, though, it seems pretty clear that the message is being delivered with a wink and a nod, and an assurance that the overall $1.5 billion in military aid that the United States sends to Egypt every year isn’t really in danger at all. And that’s absolutely no surprise.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, US Politics, World Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    I don’t know if there could be worse timing for this announcement. On the same day that the military arrests Morsi for his actions during the Mubarak protests, calls on Egyptians to flood the streets to create a civilian army, and threatens to “turn it’s guns” on those who threaten violence (ie those who support the brotherhood, or a majority of the country), THAT’S the day the Obama administration announces there will be no halt to military aid.

    Great job, guys.

  2. bill says:

    @Neil Hudelson: well it didn’t really make the news anywhere, guess it’s not news?

  3. Tyrell says:

    There should be conditions attached. Equal rights for women and all religious groups. Due process. Fair elections to be monitored by US officials. Economic reform.

  4. edmondo says:

    @Tyrell: @Tyrell:

    Equal rights for women and all religious groups. Due process. Fair elections to be monitored by US officials. Economic reform.

    We ought to have some of those in this country before we start dictating to others.

  5. James Joyner says:

    The formulation of your headline should be reversed: The United States won’t call it a coup because it doesn’t want to suspend aid or otherwise do the things that would flow from calling it a coup.

  6. Ben says:

    Putting aside for the moment whether this is the right move or not, if the administration can just decide whether something is a coup or not, what is the point of that statute? What is the point of a law that is entirely kabuki theatre?

  7. @Ben:

    Ben you do realize that there are many provisions of the United States Code to which that question is applicable, right?

  8. Davebo says:


    Egypt and Israel are the two biggest recipients of US aide.

    Should we apply these requirements to both? Or just Egypt?

  9. Just Me says:


    I pretty much agree.

    If this wasn’t a coup then what is a coup?

    I can understand why Obama and his admin would like to pretend it wasn’t a coup-the aid is the main point of leverage they have.

  10. @James Joyner:

    Fair point. The answer to the question of whether this would be called a coup has really never been in doubt.

  11. Ben says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    Ben you do realize that there are many provisions of the United States Code to which that question is applicable, right?

    Of course I realize that. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked. Vague, bullshit, pointless laws are a menace.

  12. Jenos Idanian says:

    This is not surprising. The Obama administration has asserted its right to define words however they wish, and act accordingly.

    The Fort Hood shootings were “workplace violence.”

    Terrorism became “overseas contingency operations.”

    The intervention in Libya wasn’t covered by the War Powers Act because Obama said it wasn’t.

    The Egyptian coup isn’t a coup.

    ObamaCare is a tax and isn’t a tax.

    Busiest job in the Obama administration? Dictionary editor.

  13. DC Loser says:

    We’ve really lost whatever credibility we have with the world. The Egyptian junta is our current version of “our bastards.” Egypt is going to do a replay of Algeria in the 1990s.

  14. stonetools says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Jenos, your presence is requested over on the Groundswell thread. I imagine there you will do some “redefining” of your own.

  15. stonetools says:

    The ADministration has to tread carefully here. On one hand, it doesn’t want to bless what is undeniably a coup , and what is looking more and more like the supression of an insurrection. OTOH, it doesn’t want to give up it’s most important tool for influencing the Egyptian military. Also too, there’s no question that Us national interests are at stake (if nothing else, keeping the Suez Canal open).
    I think the USA will the continue not to call it a coup, but in private attach conditions to the continued flow of aid. In public, it will continue to urge the military to call new elections ASAP.

  16. Lounsbury says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    The Brotherhood does not have the support of the majority of the country, even on the parliamentary elections, their best showing, they did not. They certainly have a very significant portion, but not clearly the majority.

  17. rachel says:

    @Lounsbury: I wonder whether a governmental takeover can properly be called a coup when it is supported by a majority of the citizens because the ousted party is engaged in their own power grab at the time.

  18. Dazedandconfused says:

    If military’s must, in our view, always defend the elected leader, why is our own oath to “support and defend the Constitution”, and not “support and defend the President”?