Mend don’t end U.S. aid to Egypt
January 9th, 2013
11:41 AM ET

Mend don’t end U.S. aid to Egypt

By Daniel Calingaert and Nancy Okail, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Daniel Calingaert is executive vice president and Nancy Okail is director for Egypt at Freedom House. The views expressed are their own.

An impending delivery of F-16 fighter jets and components of 200 Abrams tanks to Egypt has run into a barrage of criticism and triggered calls to cut off all U.S. aid to the country. These calls are excessive. Aid should continue, because the United States has a critical interest in supporting a democratic transition in Egypt. But the U.S. cannot do that effectively unless it overhauls its approach.

Three major changes are needed. First, U.S. assistance should be tied to progress toward democracy. We should hold back until the government of President Mohamed Morsy respects the fundamental rights of Egyptians and democratic principles. It has hardly done so. The government has harassed its media critics, most recently launching an investigation against popular comedian Bassem Youssef for making fun of President Morsy, and limited free expression in the new constitution, which prohibits “insulting or showing contempt toward any human being.”

The new constitution was rammed through the Constitutional Assembly and put to a snap referendum last month. Rather than build a broad consensus on the institutional structures for a new Egypt, the constitution drafting process alienated significant segments of Egyptian society, including secularists and Christians. It also coincided with a blatant power grab by Morsy, who issued a decree, subsequently reversed in the face of angry protests, to put his decisions beyond judicial review. He has made unilateral decisions without providing justifications or consulting different political forces, and in response, many of his advisors have resigned over the past two months.

More from CNN: Egypt must learn compromise

U.S. law makes military aid conditional on the Egyptian government protecting free expression, association, and religion, and due process of law. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to waive these conditions last March, as the law permits, undermined U.S. leverage. The United States should uphold the conditions going forward and suspend military aid if Egypt fails to meet them. It should also criticize Egypt’s human rights abuses during negotiations on economic assistance.

Second, the emphasis on military assistance should be reduced dramatically. At four parts military to one part civilian, the current aid package is a relic of a bygone era, when U.S. military assistance aimed to shore up President Hosni Mubarak’s contributions to regional security and reward a dependable ally. But support for Mubarak undermined U.S. credibility as Egyptians grew increasingly disillusioned with his regime. Today, U.S. interests are best served by democratic reform of Egypt’s institutions, not by strong-man rule. And economic aid will do more for Egypt’s transition and stability than arms shipments.

Neglect of democratic reform has left Egypt unstable. Under the interim military rule following the fall of Mubarak, and now under President Morsy, unrest has persisted and violent clashes have broken out repeatedly. The continued impunity of officials who committed abuses, disregard for minority rights, and concentration of power in the presidency have exacerbated social tensions and political polarization. A U.S. emphasis on military aid and on relations with President Morsy, rather than the Egyptian people, cannot bring stability to Egypt.

The country’s military has taken a less visible role since it turned the reins of government over to Morsy and saw its supreme commander, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, ousted last August, but it retains substantial power. The new constitution removes the military budget from parliamentary oversight and allows military tribunals to prosecute civilians.  A presidential decree last month gave the military authority to arrest civilians as well.  The military thus continues to hamper Egypt’s democratic progress.

Third, a far greater proportion of U.S. aid should provide technical support to Egyptian civil society organizations, because the government in Cairo is impeding efforts to advance democracy.  The government scrutinizes all foreign-funded activities of independent Egyptian groups and blocks such critical elements of a democratic society as public opinion surveys. It denies legal registration to foreign non-governmental organizations and continues to prosecute Egyptian and foreign employees of international groups, including Freedom House, with the trial scheduled to resume tomorrow. These prosecutions intimidate Egyptian NGOs and put them at risk for cooperating with their foreign counterparts.

The current uproar over U.S. weapons deliveries to Egypt should prompt a serious re-think by the Obama administration. The United States needs to revamp its aid policy, which was designed before Egypt’s revolution to bolster an authoritarian ally with little regard for Egyptians’ democratic aspirations. It should stop subsidizing a government that infringes on citizens’ rights and instead give more assistance to independent local groups that strive to build a free society and hold Egypt’s government to account.

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soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. Isis

    The U.S.A is supporting the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood but they are certainly NOT supporting a democratic transition. As an Egyptian I'd rather have the US stop supporting and funding these terrorists.

    January 9, 2013 at 2:27 pm | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Egypt's economy is in a dire shape and needs instant cash injection urgently to keep the country afloat. Sofar the US has been aiding the military, which is corrupt and much involved in the country's business sector. It's difficult to reform and improve within a short span. No doubt the US should focus on a long-term strategy with Egypt. Yet for the moment it's mired in an economic meltdown.

      January 9, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • Joe the plumber

      we do not give egypt "aid" we give egypt money and weapons which they use to shoot at and imprison their own people, so that we don't have to do it for them, its cheaper that way.

      January 27, 2013 at 6:39 pm | Reply
  2. Ayman Fadel

    I, an Egyptian expatriate, prefer that the USA cease military "aid" to Egypt, regardless of the government in power. In fact, I wish the USA would cease exporting arms all over the world, since these weapons are just ways that corrupt governments can pay bribes to US politicians, at best, and massacre their own populations (at worst). The US is the unregulated gun show of the world.

    January 9, 2013 at 3:17 pm | Reply
  3. Hahahahahahaha

    Might as well END support now before the Towel Heads take over and use our money to HATE us more!!!! Hahahahahahahaha

    January 9, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  4. Sumner Stone

    The Egyptian people seem to be in the process of exchanging one dictatorial government for another, perhaps more subtle (at least so far) one. NOW, when the regime's back is to the wall economically, is the time to exert what pressure we can to ensure that the forthcoming elections are free and fair. If Morsi and the FJP continue to play the games they have been playing for the last year- and if they continue to cozy up to Iran, we should remove the handcuffs we have placed on the military and ask them to intervene to throw yhe Brotherhood out. Failing that, we should turn off ALL aid, especially aid to Egypt's military, which controls about 35% of the Egyptian economy aa it is.

    January 9, 2013 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  5. Joseph McCarthy

    What Egypt really needs is a Maoist Revolution similar to that of China in 1949. That way, they wouldn't need foreign aid so much. If you don't believe me, just look at what took place in China since 1950 and is currently the world's second economic power!

    January 9, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Reply
  6. zaeed

    i say come on if usa fuccking A wants a war then come on come on come on bittch stop talking that stupid mouth and come on 1 nuclear fist into dublin ireland and then we gonna burn down every whoore child in ghana every basque women gonna lie burning dead dead children is gonna lie around in boston bittch we gonna bomb the sychelles also fuccking bittch im going to teach that mouth of your a lesson.

    January 9, 2013 at 8:09 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      What are you talking about Zaeed? You make zero sense in your message. The news was about financial aid to Egypt and you ramp up on Dublin, Ghana, stupid mouth, children, killing, boston etc. Really?

      January 10, 2013 at 1:09 am | Reply
  7. Mistry74

    What I want to know if why only one US news site is even talking about this and CNN, itself, has said nothing. This blog must of made it through the censored, liberal media in America. Exactly why I do NOT watch or read the news anymore.

    January 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Tell me this Mistry74, exactly what is so "liberal" about the right-wing news media? Have you noticed lately how it stayed quiet about the returning some 3500 American troops to Iraq and are only talking about the Assad regime's atrocities in Syria without mentioning those committed by the so-called Western backed "rebels"? Need I say more?

      January 10, 2013 at 11:54 am | Reply
  8. rightospeak

    Egypt needs more fighter jets and tanks ? For what ? Egypt needs cheap bread . We have no money to give-got it ? We are paying Chinese INTEREST on borrowed money. When will I see articles that start making sense ?

    January 11, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  9. SmokinJoe1x

    The time is now to stop giving the enemy anything. Oh wait, this is the USA. We let illegal aliens get in and they get free health care, food stamps and housing.

    January 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm | Reply
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    May 4, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Reply
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    May 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm | Reply

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