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Should the U.S. Cut Aid to Egypt?

Democracy best promoted through staff on the ground, not Congress

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Tahrir Square last weekend.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Following much noise in Congress (including, prominently, from Sen. Rand Paul) over potentially withholding the more than $3 billion in annual aid to Egypt due to the government’s recent crackdown on pro-democracy non-governmental organizations and their staffs, including Americans, the Muslim Brotherhood, the big winner in the recent parliamentary elections, has vowed to revisit the Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. “Egyptians have long considered American aid as a kind of payment for preserving the peace,” the New York Times reports (they may consider it thusly since the aid started with the signing of the treaty in 1979!).

Late last year, when some U.S. politicians froze development aid to the Palestinian Authority following President Abbas’ decision to try to achieve full United Nations membership, Anthony H. Cordesman, a former defense official now of the Center for Strategic International Studies, argued that the aid was too important to Palestinian stability and Israeli security to cut. When I called Cordesman today for his thoughts on the Egyptian funds, he expressed sympathy for curbing Egyptian behavior: He does not think detaining peaceful NGO workers is a good thing. But, examining U.S. (and also Israeli) interests, he couldn’t escape the conclusion that bluntly cutting aid, even to the Muslim Brotherhood, is the wrong move.

“Sometimes this sort of thing is useful because it warns Egypt,” he said, “but we need leverage in terms of security, reform, human rights, and we’re dealing with an incredibly volatile situation, and really the way to exert that leverage is through the country team and the U.S. embassy group on the scene, not to have it from Congress.”

He added, “The question is always how much leverage we have and how to use it most effectively, and probably the worst way to use leverage is to have someone in Congress produce a bill that is not tailored to producing clear, tangible results in any way the political system in Egypt can accept.”

He acknowledged that, realistically, passing such a bill through the House and the Senate with filibuster- and if necessary veto-proof majorities is an extremely unlikely proposition. And he is open to alternative means of pressuring Egypt: “It may not be a bad idea for a small congressional group to give visibility to this risk.” But, he continued, “it has to be tied to the country team”—which pretty much means, to the administration.

He added, “One also has to be very careful—the administration has to basically respond in ways that don’t simply consist in stonewalling. They have to express their concerns at the same time as they have to make it clear to the Egyptians that we’re not going to act as an imperial or dictating power. And again, that requires cautious approach from the people in the country team.”

Cordesman was speaking in reference to U.S. interests, but obviously Israeli interests are implicated as well: As he put it, “In practice, what everyone wants is an Egypt that can move forward in democracy and development and concentrate on the needs of its people, and you are not going to get that in Egypt if we go back to a period of tension and hostility between Egypt and Israel.”

After discussing the Egypt aid, I asked about the movement to cut U.S. aid to UNESCO, the U.N. organization that accepted the Palestinians as a member. The tone in his voice over the phone matched his words: “I don’t think we gain anything by showing the world we can be forced out of an international organization over one issue,” he said, “where at the end of it you have basically the same impression as a 6-year-old when they take their baseball and go home.”

Egypt vs. Israel: How Congress Weighs the Risks of Cutting Our Aid to Cairo [The Atlantic International]
Egyptian Party Threatens to Review Treaty with Israel [NYT]
Earlier: Congress Cuts P.A. Aid; ‘Political Opportunism’

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davidr says:

Oh for God’s sake, Anthony. Tying yourself up in absolute bloody knots, twisting and dodging, feigning and bobbing, all in the name of don’t-rock-the-boat give-our-local chaps-a-chance, let’s-not-have-them-hate-us diplomacy.

Call it what it is, Marc.


When the US is facing major deficits, there is no good reason to give “more than $3 billion in annual aid to Egypt” if they are not supportive of US interests and if they do things like inappropriately detaining US citizens.

The reason Congress is acting is because the administration and the State Department have failed to act or that their action has been ineffective.

The US can not afford to throw this money away, especially if Egypt continues to vilify US as it does in public and semi-public ways regularly; it is not in the US interest to have an Egypt or other nations believe that it is OK to mistreat Americans and continue to expect American billions.

Ury Vainsencher says:

In essence, the Muslim Brotherhood is saying: “Pay us or we’ll shoot up the neighborhood”. How are they different from a protection racket?

Maybe they should be shown some old newsreels to see the price Egyptians paid for war in the past.

Bill Pearlman says:

In Brooklyn they call this a shake down

M. Burgh says:

The idea that Egypt could or would launch a war against Israel at this late date is ludicrous. The threats are empty. Still, aid to Egypt isn’t hollow. Even if it smacks of a buy-off, consider the good the aid does. Do we need or want another Mid-East war? Fools in the US congress notwithstanding, we ought look at the big picture here.

The US should cut aid to Israel and Egypt simultaneously. I am no longer glibly content to support racist regimes in Tel Aviv as I can tell many others feel likewise. Israel is the sham and shame of contemporary Judaism. This codependent relationship must find it’s conclusion to restore dignity and sanity to both nations.

Rant on, crow to the moon, racism is you’re one track one and only tune.

R.K.Lord says:

Call me radical, maybe, call me isolationist, maybe, call me angry absolutly. Why should the U.S. give aid to any of them Pakistan,India Egypt etc.,etc., while we drown in debt and watch our industrial base be given away to other nations. Screw them all, let’s give America back to “legal” Americans.


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Should the U.S. Cut Aid to Egypt?

Democracy best promoted through staff on the ground, not Congress

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