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A Coup Or Not In Egypt? $1.5 Billion In U.S. Aid At Stake

When the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, it was widely described as a coup. But not universally so.

The U.S., which has been a huge aid donor to Egypt for more than three decades, has so far declined to decide one way or the other.

Why? Because if the U.S. government calls it a military coup, U.S. law requires that assistance to the country be halted.

"We're just not taking a position," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

But Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., an influential voice in foreign policy, both have called for the suspension of aid to Egypt in the wake of Morsi's ouster.

"I don't believe it's in our security interests to go along with the overthrow of a democratically elected government," Levin told NPR's All Things Considered on Tuesday.

Here's a summary of the money [PDF] the U.S. gives to Egypt:

-- Egypt has been a leading recipient of U.S. aid ever since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Most of the money goes to the military, which has been receiving $1.3 billion annually since 1987. Egypt views that money as "untouchable compensation" for making peace with Israel. According to cables released by WikiLeaks, the money also gives the U.S. military priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.

-- Economic (nonmilitary) aid, meanwhile, has fallen from $815 million in 1998 to $250 million today.

-- The bedrock of U.S. military assistance to Egypt is co-production of the M1A1 Abrams battle tank. Some components are made outside Cairo; the rest are made in the U.S. and then shipped to Egypt, where the tank is assembled. Egypt also buys other U.S. military goods, including Apache helicopters and F-16 aircraft, as well as CH-47 Chinook transport and Black Hawk helicopters.

-- The U.S. Congress conditions the assistance on a certification that Egypt is transitioning to democracy, but it allows the administration to waive this requirement under certain conditions. The Obama administration has done so twice — most recently in May.

-- Many of Egypt's senior military officers have studied or trained in the United States. Egyptian Armed Forces Commander Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.

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