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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1585

$2 billion-a-year military aid from U.S. to Egypt at the expense of human rights/democracy

Daya Gamage – US Bureau Asian Tribune
Washington, D.C. 04 February (

When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked by the media in Cairo, Egypt 05 May 2009 following his meetings with President Hosni Mubarak and his top defense team whether the U.S. military aid to that country was linked to human rights, he said the “position of the (Obama) administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that's in the (US) budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position”.

The administration of former president George W. Bush had threatened to link military assistance to Egypt’s human rights progress, but it didn’t follow through. When exiled Egyptian dissident, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, called on the U.S. government to attach conditions to aid to Egypt, U.S. officials dismissed the idea as unrealistic.

In its first year, the Obama administration cut funding for democracy and governance programming in Egypt by more than half, from $50 million in 2008 to $20 million in 2009. The level of funding for civil society programs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) was cut disproportionately, from $32 million to only $7 million. Stephen McInerny, the director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy notes that the Bush administration slashed economic aid to Egypt in the 2009 budget but kept the funding for democracy and governance programs constant, while Obama cut funding to those programs in an effort to make the cuts more proportional and under pressure from the American embassy in Cairo.

In addition, the administration limited funding only to NGOs registered with the Egyptian government, oversees such groups broadly and can dissolve them for violations like receiving foreign funding. Most human rights groups are not registered with the government, according to an Egyptian academic interviewed by the U.S. Embassy. The widely-criticized change, taken in the wake of intense pressure from Egyptian officials for the U.S. to stop funding non-registered groups, reversed a Bush-era policy (under Obama) of funding all NGOs and civil society programs.

At the press conference in Cairo following is the question and answer whether US military aid is tied to human rights practices.

(Begin Text) Question: The U.S. military relationship with Egypt -- (inaudible) -- the U.S. military declaration -- (inaudible) -- U.S. assistance to Egypt under the previous administration was linked to human rights progress. Is the Obama administration changing or shifting that policy? Did you hear concerns here in your talks about the level of U.S. military assistance to Egypt?

Sec. Gates: Well, clearly, the United States always is supportive of human rights, and that is no less true of the Obama administration than other administrations. By the same token, it is important to continue our work and our friendship with these countries. And the position of the administration is that as an example the foreign military financing that's in the budget should be without conditions. And that is our sustained position. (End Text)

A September 2008 report says Egypt's most prominent exiled dissident is prodding American legislators to use their leverage over U.S. aid to Egypt to force the Cairo government to foster greater political and media freedoms and a more independent judiciary.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a 69-year-old sociologist from the American University in Cairo, was lobbying members of Congress to attach conditions to America's $1.5 billion annual aid to Egypt. "I am pushing for conditionality, and I would like the democracy and freedom agenda to be a bipartisan one," Ibrahim said.

But a previous effort to tie portions of Egypt's aid to an easing of its political climate proved short-lived, and even Ibrahim's friends say his struggle is misguided. Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., the former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, said Ibrahim's crusade was "totally idealistic and, in that sense, admirable but not realistic."

Well, the events unfolding in Egypt has shown that Professor Ibrahim’s vision was not at all unrealistic.

Who benefits from the military aid?

Egypt gets the most U.S. foreign aid of any country except for Israel. The amount varies each year and there are many different funding streams, but U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt has averaged just over $2 billion every year since 1979, when Egypt struck a peace treaty with Israel following the Camp David Peace Accords, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from 2009.

That average includes both military and economic assistance, though the latter has been in decline since 1998 , according to CRS.

According to the State Department, U.S. military aid to Egypt totals over $1.3 billion annually in a stream of funding known as Foreign Military Financing.

U.S. officials have long argued that the funding promotes strong ties between the two countries’ militaries, which in turn have all sorts of benefits.

The following is an extract from a 2009 U.S. embassy cable recently released by WikiLeaks that justified the benefits:

(Begin Quote) President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the USD 1.3 billion in annual FMF as "untouchable compensation" for making and maintaining peace with Israel. The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.(End Quote)

The military funding also enables Egypt to purchase U.S.-manufactured military goods and services, a 2006 report from the Government Accountability Office explained.

The $1.3 annual aid benefits Egypt’s military and whatever government it supports, which has so far been Mubarak’s. Foreign military financing is a great deal for Egypt—it gets billions in no-strings-attached (in exchange of human rights) funding to modernize its armed forces and replace old Soviet weapons with advanced U.S. weaponry and military equipment.

Egypt can purchase military equipment either through the U.S. military or directly from U.S. defense contractors, and it can do so on credit. In 2006, the GAO noted that Egypt had entered some defense contracts in advance of—and in excess of—its military assistance appropriations.

It is very clear that American defense contractors overwhelmingly benefits from this aid arrangement. Contractors including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin have all done business with the Egyptian government through relationships facilitated by high-powered Washington lobbyists.

So, who’s worried about human rights, good governance and justice in Egypt? In fact, the Obama administration has drastically reduced funding human rights promotion, and his defense secretary said in Cairo that there are no strings attached to U.S. military aid to Egypt.

Recently released classified US diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks show that officials within the Egyptian government have asked that USAID stop financing organizations that were “not properly registered as NGOs” with the Egyptian government. AFP reports on a 2007 embassy cable that describes President Mubarak as “deeply skeptical of the US role in democracy promotion.”

Per the Egyptian government’s complaints, the U.S. now limits its funding to NGOs registered with the government, therefore excluding most human rights groups.

Such funding has also declined sharply under the Obama administration, an administration that presumed championing human rights, good governance and justice.

What about economic aid?

If annual military aid is $1.3 billion the annual economic aid is a negligible amount of $200,000. Which means, the U.S. has done almost nothing to enhance the economic condition of the vast masses who are economically depressed? They are the ones who are spearheading the ‘popular revolt’ against the Mubarak regime.

U.S. economic aid to Egypt has declined over the years, but is generally in the hundreds of millions annually.

An analysis in one popular web site remarks: Some of this aid also comes back to benefit the U.S. through programs such as the Commodity Import Program. Under that program, the U.S. gives Egypt millions in economic aid to import U.S. goods.

The State Department, on its website, describes it as “one of the largest and most popular USAID programs.”

Others were not as successful. A 2006 inspector general’s audit of a 4-year, $57-million project to increase jobs and rural household incomes found that the U.S. investment “has not increased the number of jobs as planned” among participants.

A 2009 audit of a $151 million project to modernize Egypt’s financial sector found that while the country’s real estate finance market experienced significant growth throughout the project’s duration, USAID’s efforts were “not clearly measurable” and the growth could be due to market forces or the Egyptian government's actions.

Critics of the Obama administration’s economic aid to Egypt have noted that in 2007, for instance, such aid only amounted to $6 per capita, compared with the $40.80 per capita spent on Jordan that same year. Ahmad El-Naggar, economic researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, criticized the U.S. in 2009 for focusing on “programs valued for strict ideological reasons,” and not on the country’s growing poverty and unemployment rate—two issues fueling the current protests.

- Asian Tribune -

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