The United States federal government has approved the export of tear gas to the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government of Egypt, the State Department stated Monday.
A reporter asked Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell about the sale of tear gas canisters from a U.S. manufacturer at a midday press conference, and Ventrell confirmed the State Department had authorized the deal in question.
"I can tell you that we have approved an export license for the shipment of U.S.-manufactured nonlethal riot control agents to the Egyptian Government," he responded, with the caveat that "we strongly support the right of all Egyptians to assemble, to peacefully protest, and violence has no place in a free and democratic Egypt."
The questioner followed up, asking whether the State Dept. required the manufacturer to remove any graphics indicating their product was made in America. "We did not advise the manufacturer to remove 'Made in the USA' from its labels," Ventrell said. "We refer you to the manufacturer on the labeling of their products. But that was not a request from us."
The tear gas will likely be used on crowds of people who have come out against Egyptian Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Protesters fighting against Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt blocked the doors to Cairo's main administrative building on Sunday, reported AFP.
Since a November decree that pushed through an Islamist-drafted constitution, Egypt has been deeply divided between Morsi's Islamist supporters and a wide-ranging opposition that accuses the president of betraying the uprising that brought him to office and consolidating power in the hands of his Muslim Brotherhood.
In further followup, Ventrell asserted that if the U.S. found Egypt's government misusing the tear gas or violating human rights, that would be grounds to halt future contracts. He was not able to answer specifically how the State Department would vet the use of the product.
When asked if Egypt could purchase tear gas from other nations instead, Ventrell responded, "I have to admit, I’m not an expert on the different kinds of nonlethal crowd control agents."