The United States still considers Egypt its ally, but tensions between the two countries have been growing. Earlier this week, the Muslim Brotherhood threatened to sever Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel if the United States cuts off foreign aid to Egypt. The Brotherhood’s threats are escalating a political crisis at a time when democracy in Egypt is just starting to blossom. Cutting off U.S. foreign aid to Egypt will destabilize the country, the region, and prevent the United States from defending its interests in the region.
The United States gives Egypt $1.3 billion in foreign military assistance annually as part of the Camp David Peace Accords that the United States, Israel, and Egypt signed in 1979. After Egypt raided the offices of U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups in Cairo and subsequently refused to allow its personnel to leave Egypt, the U.S. threatened to cut off aid to Egypt.
More recently, Egypt’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation, Fayza Abu Naga, escalated the problem when she pressed for the indictment and criminal investigation of American personnel who work with the pro-democracy groups. They are accused of illegally financing non-profit groups in Egypt. Tensions are swelling, and there are very mixed messages coming out of Cairo and dynamics are changing quickly.
Over the weekend, Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in Egypt (the de facto governing body in Egypt), publicly called for strengthening relations with the United States. SCAF also issued a statement saying that “Egypt does not bow to the domination of anyone.” Egypt’s state-owned newspaper, Al Ahram, also ran a headline accusing the United States of spreading anarchy in Egypt. Worsening the optics of this political crisis is that 70% of Egyptians do not want the Egyptian government to accept foreign aid from the United States. Egyptian clerics have called U.S. aid to Egypt a “humiliation.”
U.S. lawmakers are becoming increasingly intolerant of the Egyptian government’s criminal investigation of the U.S. funded pro-democracy groups. Senator Rand Paul even used a filibuster in the Senate in an attempt to end aid to Egypt. Senator Paul’s legislation would block aid to Egypt unless the White House certifies that the Egyptian government is not “holding, detaining, prosecuting, harassing, or preventing the exit from Egypt” of any person working for a nongovernmental organization in Egypt.
U.S. military commanders have argued against cutting off aid. Army General Martin Dempsey testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee and told Congress that cutting off aid to Egypt would be a mistake. General Dempsey spent a day in Egypt with his Egyptian counterparts urging them to resolve this crisis.
The foreign aid that Egypt receives from the United States mostly goes to the Egyptian military. In addition to peace with Israel, the United States also gets military to military cooperation with the Egyptian government like priority access to the Suez Canal and use of Egyptian Airspace. Both are strategically important for U.S. interests in the region, especially U.S. military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, U.S. defense contractors like General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, are huge beneficiaries of the weapons systems that Egypt buys with its U.S. aid. Cutting off aid to Egypt will have serious implications for the U.S. defense industry.
The Egyptian military is a big player in Egypt’s economy, ranging from economic interests in consumer goods like bottled water, to construction and tourism. A hit to the Egyptian military would be a hit to Egypt’s already fragile economy. U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt helps to stabilize Egypt and the region. If this political crisis is not resolved soon, Egypt could see its post-Mubarak democracy collapse.
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