February 7th, 2012
09:00 AM ET

Lindsay: Should the United States still give Egypt foreign aid?

Editor's Note: Dr. James M. Lindsay is a Senior Vice President at the Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Visit his blog here and follow him on Twitter.

By James M. LindsayCFR.org

What if you want to give foreign aid but the intended beneficiaries say they don’t want it? That’s the dilemma the Obama administration faces right now in the Middle East.Two weeks ago, the State Department announced it planned to provide “more immediate benefits” to the Egyptian people. Washington would redirect non-urgent aid originally earmarked for other countries to Egypt to fund quick-impact projects. The idea is to help the most populous and influential country in the Arab world make the difficult transition from autocratic rule to a successful and prospering democracy.

According to a Gallup poll just out, however, most Egyptians don’t want America’s help. Seven in ten Egyptians say they oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt; three-quarters oppose Washington’s efforts to fund Egypt’s civil society (i.e., pro-democracy) groups.  But Egyptians aren’t flatly opposed to foreign aid. By a margin of five-to-four they favor taking aid from international institutions, and they favor taking aid from other Arab countries by nearly the same margin that they oppose American aid.

In all, the Gallup poll results point to a broader problem for U.S. foreign policy and one that has been inevitable from the moment that Hosni Mubarak was pushed from power: the Egyptian people are suspicious of U.S. motives and policies. Most Egyptians believe that Mubarak’s government was too close to Washington and too eager to do its bidding. They want a more distant relationship from the United States.

The Egyptian people just might get their wish for less U.S. aid. The Egyptian government’s decision to prosecute American and other foreign democracy activists, including the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, is not going over well in Washington. Already some in Congress, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chair of the Senate Appropriations panel on State and Foreign Operations, have threatened to retaliate for the prosecution by withholding some if not all of the more than $1.5 billion the United States gives to Egypt each year.

With any luck, cooler heads will prevail in a dispute that doesn’t serve either country’s long-term interests. Nonetheless, the aid relationship will be a touchy one for years to come. Egyptians have their grievances, and Americans will be understandably upset if the beneficiaries of their hard-earned tax dollars aren’t thankful.

But as I have discussed before, gratitude isn’t the primary objective of U.S. foreign aid. Washington doles out aid primarily based on calculations about how to advance U.S. strategic interests. And the United States certainly has great interests at stake in how Egypt’s political transition plays out even if it doesn’t have a lot of influence over where it ends up. Insulating the U.S. aid relationship from the vagaries of politics in both countries will be a challenge for months to come.

What do you think the chances are that U.S. aid for Egypt will continue over the next five years?

 The views expressed in this article are solely those of James M. Lindsay.

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Topics: Aid • Egypt • United States

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. paula Jay

    the next question should be – why are the egyptians opposed to foreign aid from the u.s.?

    February 7, 2012 at 9:20 am | Reply

    They hate America and the Jewish State.
    If you remember, in the Year 2010, one Saudi Immam announced at Al-Jazzera, " Any Muslim who hold hostage the Jewish Army, will be awarded more than $100,000.00 USD". Within few Hours, the award raised to Million Dollars, by Saudi Princes.

    In addition, some of the Jewish Women are causing huge problems for the Jewish State and its friendly Countries. The Jewish Women goes to blindly, for whomever showed them the Money.

    Currently, since the last several Years, more than 350,000 Jewish Women Married Egyptian Muslim Men and other Arab Muslim Men. Most of them are even wearing Burkas and hijab to show their strong Muslim faiths.
    I believe, systematically, the Muslim Brother Hoods are playing a dangerous role for destruction of the Jewish Faith and State, funded and supported by Arab Countries. That's why they don't want Foreign or Western observants to keep their evil secrets alive.

    February 7, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
  3. Gips

    I am an American/ Egyptian, and for good relations with the US. Egypt benefits from US aid and the US benefits from having a strong ally in the region including safeguarding its vital oil supplies in the region, priority passage for its warships in the Suez canal and maintaining the peace treaty with Israel. Our military's supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) who is governing Egypt at the moment is not popular among its own people and is going out of power soon so it is trying to pick a fight with the US by selling false patriotism to Egyptians. I think the US should exercise restraint at the moment and wait to see the upcoming government. In the meantime the US should try being less bias to Israel in order not to give ammunitions to SCAF and the anti-American camp in Egypt, and really, for decades the Palestinians have been having a humanitarian crisis which is the main cause of resentment to the US in the region making selling democracy to Egypt by American NGOs rather unbelievable

    February 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  4. George Patton

    Of course not!!! Why don't we just tell our crony European allies to do it instead? Since Great Britain, Germany and France are so blindly obedient to us anyway, they'll gladly chip in and fill the aid vacuum!!!

    February 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  5. j. von hettlingen

    The U.S. gives over $1,5 billion to Egypt in form of aid. How much of it goes to the military? It's comprehensible that the Egyptians refuse foreign aid. The revolution had boosted their self-esteem ant they want to prove themselves capable of mastering their won destiny.

    February 7, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply

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