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Congress divided over cutting off aid to Egypt

Lawmakers are split over whether cutting off the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt would help or hurt the US's cause.

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CAIRO, EGYPT - JULY 26: An Egyptian Army Apache helicopter flies over a crowd of pro-military demonstrators at Tahrir Square on July 26, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. Congress is divided over cutting off the $1.5 billion in annual aid to Egypt. Much of the money is used to finance the purchase of American military equipment. (Ed Giles/AFP/Getty Images)

Opinions among lawmakers remained split on Sunday over whether the US should cut off or suspend aid to Egypt.

The US spends roughly $1.5 billion a year on assistance to Egypt with much of it going to financing the purchase of US military equipment. 

Calls to cut off or suspend this aid has been growing since the Egyptian military's crackdown against supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

The violence has so far killed more than 750 people.

Lawmakers in favor of cutting off aid say that the US is losing credibility in the Middle East by continuing to fund the Egyptian military responsible for the violent crackdown.

Those opposed claim that the US needs to maintain its relationship with Egypt because of its strategic location and to prevent al Qaeda operatives from gaining a safe haven. 

The divide highlights the lack of good options for the White House when it comes to responding to the crisis in Cairo.

"There are no good choices in Egypt," said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

"I think there is more opportunity to protect American interests if we work with the military and continue our relationship with the military," King said on "Fox News Sunday."

Democrat Eliot Engel of New York told ABC's "This Week" that the US still has influence in Egypt and believes its leaders don't want to destroy their strategic relationship with the US.

"It's a little bit bizarre to understand why they're doing what they're doing, but I don't think you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Egypt's an important country, and I think we have to be very careful before we willy-nilly just cut off aid," Engel said.

More from GlobalPost: Cairo simmers after 'day or rage' (LIVE BLOG)

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made a diplomatic push in Cairo earlier this month to try and encourage the interim government to hold democratic elections.

McCain voted last month to maintain aid to Egypt but said on Sunday that he's had a change of heart and now supports cutting off funding.

"We have no credibility. We do have influence, but when you don't use that influence, then you do not have that influence," McCain said on CNN’s "State of the Union."

"With Apache helicopters flying overhead (in Egypt), nothing is more symbolic of the United States of America siding with the generals," McCain said.

McCain is not alone in changing his mind.

Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Bob Corker of Tennessee also voted to maintain aid but said Sunday that they now agree the US should cut off assistance. 

"They're obviously getting the impression that no matter what they do, our aid will continue. So we do need to exercise our influence by saying we're going to follow the law ... (and) suspend aid, until you restore democracy," Ayotte said on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

President Obama announced this week that the US was suspending joint military exercises with Egypt but stopped short of suspending any aid.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/130818/congress-divided-over-cutting-aid-egypt