How Washington Justified American Aid to Egypt

While the United States is distracted with Donald Trump, Russia and the Kavanagh hearings, it is business as usual (more or less) at the U.S. Department of State.  As you will see in this posting, when it comes to its allies in the Middle East, Washington is willing to bend its own rules to ensure that its partners retain their military capabilities and that the United States retains its strategic advantage in the region.

Let’s start by looking at some background.  Back in August 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cancelled $95.7 million in military and economic aid to Egypt and delayed an additional $195 million in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds because of Egypt’s questionable track record on civil liberties and human rights in general.  Under American law, Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual FMF funding of which $195 million is held back until the Egyptian government can prove that it is making progress on human rights and democracy issues.  One of the key issues that led to the cancellation and delay is the recent law that restricts NGO activity in Egypt to developmental and social work and introduces jail time for up to five years for non-compliant organizations.  Organizations must receive permission from the Egyptian government to carry out and publish the results of studies and will be subjected to fines of up to $55,000 for violations.

The United States has long backed Egypt.  Between 1946 and 2016, the United States provided Egypt with $78.3 billion in aid (not adjusted for inflation) with all aid being appropriated and authorized by Congress.  All U.S. military aid to Egypt is designated to finance the procurement of weapons systems and services from U.S.-based defense contractors, yet another way that tax dollars flow more-or-less directly from taxpayers’ wallets to the Military-Industrial-Congressional complex.    Here is how the flow of military aid from the United States to Egypt works:

Here is a table showing the history of military and economic aid granted to Egypt:

For fiscal 2019, President Trump is requesting a total of $1.381 billion oil foreign assistance, the same amount as in previous years.

Despite the flow of aid, there have long been concerns about human rights in Egypt.  According to the Department of State’s own report on Egypt’s human rights record from 2017, we find the following:

The most significant human rights issues included arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; major terrorist attacks; disappearances; torture; harsh or potentially life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; including the use of military courts to try civilians; political prisoners and detainees; unlawful interference in privacy; limits on freedom of expression, including criminal “defamation of religion” laws; restrictions on the press, internet, and academic freedom; and restrictions on freedoms of assembly and association, including government control over registration and financing of NGOs. LGBTI persons faced arrests, imprisonment, and degrading treatment. The government did not effectively respond to violence against women, and there were reports of child labor.

The government inconsistently punished or prosecuted officials who committed abuses, whether in the security services or elsewhere in government. In most cases the government did not comprehensively investigate human rights abuses, including most incidents of violence by security forces, contributing to an environment of impunity…

The government, at times, used excessive force to disperse both peaceful and nonpeaceful demonstrations. On July 16, security forces killed one protester on Warraq Island, near Cairo, reportedly due to suffocation from tear gas. The Ministry of Interior and press reporting claimed protesters attacked security forces with rocks and birdshot. A local resident claimed police fired birdshot as well as tear gas at protesters….

At year’s end the government had not held accountable any individual or governmental body for state violence after 2013, including the deaths of hundreds of civilians during the 2013 dispersals of the sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in Cairo and Nahda Square in Giza.”

With that background and keeping in mind that aid to Egypt must be certified before it is granted, let’s look at the most recent developments.  On August 21, 2018, Secretary of State Pompeo signed national security waivers which allowed the spending of the Foreign Military Financing (FMF) designated for Egypt.  This includes $1 billion for the current 2018 budget year and the aforementioned $195 million that was appropriated for 2017 as well as the $195 million from fiscal 2016 that was held back by Rex Tillerson as I noted above.  Here is the signed determination/waiver:

Here is the memorandum of justification for the waiver noting that the memo clearly states that “the overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate”:

Here are the highlights:

1.) Egypt continues to restrict the right of peaceful assembly and freedom of association

2.) Violence against women remains a serious problem

3.) Increased restrictions on freedom of expression

4.) a public meeting of more than ten people can only take place after notifying the Ministry of the Interior

5.) the Egyptian government restricts peaceful public assemblies by arresting activists in advance of planned protests

6.) there is increased harrassment and arrest of LGBTI individuals

7.) the laws restricting the activities of NGOs remains in place

8.) there are reports of large numbers of political prisoners and detainees

9.) Egypt remains deficient in providing guarantees of fair trials and there is excessive use of detention without bail as well as prolonged periods of detention prior to trial (in some cases exceeding five years)

That said, here’s the justification for continuing to use taxpayers’ dollars to fund a country that is obviously in breach of human rights:

The Secretary of State has determined that it is important to the national security interests of the United States to waive the certification requirement….with respect to 15 percent of foreign military financing assistance withheld…for Egypt.  The United States seeks a stable and prosperous Egypt that supports regional peace and efforts to combat terrorism.  As the most populous Arab state and guarantor of Suez Canal security, Egypt contributes to regional security.

It is blatantly obvious that Washington cares little about human rights issues among its allies.  With the most recent examples of military aid going to Saudi Arabia, it is clear that Washington is more concerned about its vision of American hegemony and global security than it is about the misery that the regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia inflict on their citizens.  It is apparent that the current Secretary of State has blinders on when it comes to human rights issues.

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