Secretary of State Clinton is set to sign a waiver today to release $1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt.
The Obama administration told Congress on Thursday it will waive democracy requirements to release up to $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt despite concerns that the country is backsliding on commitments it made to democratic governance and rule of law.
U.S. officials and lawmakers said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has determined that it was in the U.S. national interest to allow $1.3 billion in military assistance to flow. She also certified that Egypt is meeting its obligations to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which frees up an additional $200 million in economic aid, they said.
A senior State Department official said the decisions "reflect our overarching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy."
The office of Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate subcommittee on foreign aid, revealed Clinton's decision and made clear his deep unhappiness with it, arguing that Clinton should now limit the amount of military aid that is released.For comprehensive background on the diplomatic dust-up between the U.S. and Egypt (primarily "The NGO Affair") see this March 16 article at POMED (warning: pdf). I have also written two diaries covering aspects of the affair here and here.
Clinton should "release no more taxpayer funds than is demonstrably necessary, withholding the rest in the (U.S.) Treasury pending further progress in the transition to democracy" in Egypt, Leahy said in a statement.
Hours later, a senior State Department official confirmed Clinton would on Friday waive a requirement, recently passed by Congress and authored by Leahy, for Egypt's government to support a transition to democracy in order for U.S. military aid to continue.
In all honesty, I do not trust the motivations behind Leahy's conditions on military aid to Egypt (statement [3 February 2012]) or those of the cohort of Senators (McCain, Levin et alii) who have been vocal in their support of these conditions. That said I am somewhat disappointed, though not surprised, by Secretary of State Clinton's decision to sign this waiver.
Issandr el-Amrani, writing at The Arabist, has been following this story closely and narrating developments with his usual incisive wit. I find myself in total agreement with el-Amrani when he posed on 17 March the question "Will the US approve aid to Egypt?" and replied "Probably—but it will be more embarrassing this time round."
Embarrassing? "Yes," embarrassing. The decision to sign the waiver and approve the $1.3 billion in military aid as well as an additional $200 million in economic aid is fundamentally a statement of support for the ruling junta of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). This military aid will serve to strengthen the SCAF's claims to power and their economy-within-an-economy, what Robert Springborg and others have called "Egypt's Military, Inc." On the entrenched military economy and its significance in the struggle for political power and democratic reforms in Egypt, see Springborg's interview with Egypt Independent (formerly al-Masry al-Youm) from 26 October 2011 and also see Shana Marshall's and Joshua Stacher's article "Egypt's Generals and Transnational Capital" in the Spring 2012 issue of Middle East Report. The waiver is a simple affirmation of the status quo, of Mubarakism 2.0.
The decision to sign the waiver is also embarrassing for serving as a clear privileging of U.S. interests in the status quo balance-of-power in the Egypt-Palestine-Israel nexus over our professed interests in democratization in Egypt (specifically, and MENA more generally.) I've little doubt that the mediating role adopted by the SCAF in brokering the recent cease-fire in Gaza factored significantly in the decision to waive democratization requirements.
Realpolitik, but is it good policy to facilitate the SCAF's hold on political and economic power in Egypt, coercive power that has proven to be essentially anti-democratic? Some undoubtedly view the SCAF as the lesser of two evils. In my view, the jury is still out...
Update: and it's done... Reuters, U.S. Approves Egypt Military Aid Despite Rights Fears
The Obama administration on Friday formally released $1.3 billion in military aid for Egypt despite Cairo's failure to meet pro-democracy goals, saying U.S. national security required continued military assistance.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton waived congressional conditions imposed late last year that tied U.S. aid to progress in Egypt's transition to democracy following the ouster of longtime President Hosni Mubarak.
"These decisions reflect America's over-arching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.