Citing Persecution of Christians, Gus Bilirakis Takes Aim at Aid to Egypt

By: Kevin Derby | Posted: December 14, 2011 3:55 AM

From his perches on the House Middle East and South Asia Subcommittee and the International Religious Freedom Caucus, Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis urged Congress to set conditions on American taxpayer dollars being sent to Egypt.

"Americans should be alarmed, especially during dire fiscal times, that our taxpayer dollars are being used by the Egyptian military as a means to violate human rights," Bilirakis said in a statement on Tuesday.

Noting that Egypt received $1.3 billion in foreign aid, Bilirakis called for the House Appropriations Committee to put conditions on that money. Bilirakis insisted that some of those funds were being used to persecute religious minorities, including Coptic Christians.

Bilirakis was one of seven Republicans in Congress who sent a letter on the subject last week to U.S. Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs and ranking Democrat U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. Other congressmen who signed the letter were Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Michael Grimm of New York, Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, Phil Roe of Tennessee, and two representatives from New Jersey -- Albio Sires and Chris Smith.

“The United States gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid annually,” the congressmen wrote to Granger and Lowey. “At a time when the U.S. is struggling to balance our budget and get our nation on a path to fiscal sustainability, it is unacceptable to continue to provide unconditional military aid to a country that disregards the basic principles of human rights and religious freedom.”

In their letter to Granger and Lowey, the congressmen pointed to recent incidents in which the Egyptian military used excessive force against Coptic Christians in protests in Cairo back in October. They also cited incidents in November when the Egyptian military used tear gas against protesters. Noting that the U.S. Senate State and Foreign Operations appropriations bill set conditions on funding of Egypt, the congressmen urged the House subcommittee to do the same.

In a meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, of which Smith serves as chairman, some of the congressmen who sent Granger and Lowey the letter -- including Bilirakis and Pitts -- engaged with critics of Egypt’s military and religious and human rights activists back in November.