U.S. triples arms sales, mostly to GCC

U.S. Foreign Arms Sales Are Most of Global Market

Thom Shanker in NYT:

Overseas weapons sales by the United States totaled $66.3 billion last year, or more than three-quarters of the global arms market, valued at $85.3 billion in 2011. Russia was a distant second, with $4.8 billion in deals.

The American weapons sales total was an “extraordinary increase” over the $21.4 billion in deals for 2010, the study found, and was the largest single-year sales total in the history of United States arms exports. The previous high was in fiscal year 2009, when American weapons sales overseas totaled nearly $31 billion.

A worldwide economic decline had suppressed arms sales over recent years. But increasing tensions with Iran drove a set of Persian Gulf nations — Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman — to purchase American weapons at record levels.

These Gulf states do not share a border with Iran, and their arms purchases focused on expensive warplanes and complex missile defense systems.

Tripling of arms sales in 2011, with a good half of them going to the GCC. Under the administration of a president who received a Nobel peace prize partly in expectation of future work towards peace.

Al-Amin: What’s the U.S. up to in Egypt?

Esam Al-Amin in Counterpunch:

In this high stakes of international power play the U.S. strategy in the region is to prefer a managed transition to civilian rule and democratic governance as long as the American major strategic objectives are not challenged. In short, the strategy is to give the Islamic rising powers a chance to govern as long as they agree to: keep the Americans in, the Chinese and Russians out, the Iranians down, and the Israelis safe.

Time will only tell if the Islamic group would fulfill such expectations or chart a more independent course in line with the objectives of the revolution that brought them to power.

Al-Amin is critical of US foreign policy in the region (who isn't!?) but his article is fair appraisal of priorities for Washington in post-uprising Egypt. It's actually a pretty decent mix as long as it includes that transition to democratic governance (and I think the US is not on good terms with SCAF, or more specifically Tantawi, anyway). The question is what happens to the good stuff if Washington doesn't get its way on the others — and I think that something there has got to give.

The first test, as Al-Amin points out, is likely to be the blockade on Gaza and Egypt-Israel relations. The Israelis, in any case, are not wasting time making their preparations and drafting allies in the US:

That last piece on CNN.com is an op-ed by Mark Udall, a US Senator for Colorado (D). He writes:

It is critical that we engage the Israelis and Egyptians in joint discussions on security in the Sinai and on preserving the Multinational Force and Observers' mission. The Egyptian military should be urged to reinforce checkpoints on the borders between mainland Egypt and the Sinai in order to stop the flow of arms and crack down on human trafficking. Egypt's new government must respect the country's commitments to combat human trafficking under international conventions as well as domestic law.

Where the US lags behind is accepting that the main cause of instability in Sinai is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the impact the Gaza blockade has had in criminalizing the Sinai economy through the tunnels. What Egypt needs in Sinai is not just a greater commitment of the state to fight crime, but an end to the blockade, which means an end to the Quartet conditions.

State Dept. finally admits inconsistency

Via Mondoweiss: State Dep't says it is 'not consistent' on human rights violations involving Israel and neighbors

This is a classic — the AP's tenacious State Dept correspondent Matt Lee (really, no ones asks the tough questions like he does again and again) gets the State Dept. spokesperson to say that the US is ready to say HRW reports are credible when it comes to Syria but will not call them credible if they're about Israel.

MS. NULAND: Matt, as you have made clear again and again in this room, we are not always consistent.

That's the nut quote but read the whole exchange. 

The current State Dept. motto, on their website at least, is "Diplomacy in action". Maybe they should change that to "Not always consistent".

The clock is ticking... for Washington

I took this photo on January 29, 2011 in Tahrir Square. Back to the same issue.

Readers of this blog know that I am against US military aid to Egypt. I was against it under Mubarak and am against it under SCAF. I am partly against aid because I'm not a big fan of any of the big Middle Eastern aid packages, because of the specifics of the Egyptian situation, although I am not against it under any circumstances. The national security waiver exercised by the Obama administration in March was premature and unwarranted, and now they have egg on their face. Washington can buy itself a few days to figure out what's going to happen in Egypt this week — this is what the recent statements frm the State Dept. being "troubled" by the recent developments amount to but the clock is ticking: they will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF's constitutional coup if they continue it.

It's a situation as black-and-white as the one we see in Egypt today, despite all attempts to fudge the issue. Sara Khorshid puts it well in this NYT op-ed, The Betrayal of Egypt's Revolution:

Given the military’s consistent disregard for basic democratic norms over the past 16 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment last week that “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people” sounded ridiculous.

Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.

America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.

If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.

Shadi Hamid (with whom I cordially disagree on many issues) also put it well yesterday on Twitter:

These two are Egyptians (Shadi is Egyptian-American), which is important — I think more Egyptians are willing to publicly take this stance. More Americans need to care about this, too. I'm not Egyptian, and care mostly about this for American reasons. It's not just that I don't want my tax dollars to subsidize the US defense industry and pampered generals in Cairo. It's also that I don't want the blowback when Egyptians turn to Americans and say, "you supported our dictators".  The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.

On Obama's foreign policy

Via Andrew Sullivan, some interesting posts on judging Obama’s foreign policy by Conor Friedersdorf and Daniel Larison. The latter writes:

Among post-WWII Presidents, Obama’s foreign policy record has been competent enough that it shouldn’t be ranked anywhere near the real failures (e.g., LBJ, Bush II, Kennedy, etc.), but it shouldn’t be confused with one of the very best records, either. It’s true that Obama’s record seems much better than it is when compared with George W. Bush’s, but then that is the relevant comparison for political purposes. Even when Obama blunders, he doesn’t suffer as much political damage because we still remember how badly Bush performed and we are regularly reminded of what the terrifying practical alternative to Obama was every time McCain sounds off on an international crisis. Judged by those admittedly low standards, Obama’s record looks a lot better than if we assessed his overall record simply on the merits. Bush’s foreign policy failures helped make Obama President, and they continue to make his own record look better by comparison, and I’m not sure that it’s possible for people who lived through the Bush years to avoid making that comparison when judging Obama’s record.

It all depends on the standards you apply. By GWB standards he’s fantastic. By US post-WW2 standards he’s alright — especially, he is cautious and pragmatic. By mainstream human rights standards he’s pretty awful, mostly because of the continued use of rendition, Guantanamo Bay, assassinations and drones — in which he continues GWB policies. One of the more recurrent criticism of Obama is his lack of overarching doctrine, precisely because of his pragmatic case-by-case approach. The bottom line, compared with most other presidents, he’s OK and performed well in some instances, such as the Libyan intervention (in the sense that he did it in a manner that minimized possibility for US overreach, which was the stated goal), and pretty embarrassingly in other cases (Israel).

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Stacher and Brownlee on Democracy Prevention

In connection with our previous post excerpting Josh Stacher's book Adaptable Autocrats, here's Josh interviewing (fellow Egypt expert) Jason Brownlee about his forthcoming book, Democracy Prevention: The Politics of the US-Egyptian Alliance. Look out for their conversation starting at 06:50 on how the Obama administration did not embrace the Egyptian uprising and encouraged as much continuity as possible with the Mubarak regime — "they were trying to minimize the extent of change" says Brownlee.

On AP's piece on US democracy promotion funding in Egypt

US democracy aid went to favored groups in Egypt:

Interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the workers' protest and the broader government crackdown with the raids helped expose what U.S. officials do not want to admit publicly: The U.S. government spent tens of millions of dollars financing and training liberal groups in Egypt, the backbone of the Egyptian uprising. This was done to build opposition to Islamic and pro-military parties in power, all in the name of developing democracy and all while U.S. diplomats were assuring Egyptian leaders that Washington was not taking sides.

"We were picking sides," said a senior U.S. official involved in discussions with Egyptian leaders after last year's revolution swept President Hosni Mubarak from power after three decades. The official requested anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters.

Since the December raids, U.S. officials have scrambled to repair their once close relationship with Egypt. But the damage wasn't done overnight or as a result of the raids.

Documents and interviews with U.S. and Egyptian officials show:

— U.S. diplomats knew as far back as March 2008 that Egyptian leaders might close democracy programs and arrest workers, and last year some even discussed the possibility of a stern Egyptian response to dumping $65 million into democracy training after the Arab Spring uprisings, a sharp increase from past spending.

— Democracy training programs with strong ties to the U.S. political parties received the biggest share, $31.8 million, and spent it with few strings attached. IRI refused to work with members of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, an Islamic group that holds more seats in the elected parliament than any other party in the country. IRI's Democratic counterpart, the National Democratic Institute, offered training and support to Brotherhood members.

— Nearly six years before the Egyptian government filed charges against the U.S. democracy workers, its leaders severely restricted the American democracy programs after a controversy over public comments by IRI's director.

A few reactions:

✪ Can we please defund IRI? And fire Sam Lahood?

✪ AP here is overstating the 2008 threat to close these programs by Egypt. In 2008, the US Embassy in Cairo moved to repair the relationship with the Egyptians and actually accepted Egyptian veto power over some of the money spent. After the revolution it moved back to the 2002-2008 position which was not to give the Egyptian government a veto.

✪ This particular bit has to be illegal under US law and should be subject to a Freedom of Information request:

Despite a U.S. commitment to make public the details of its democracy aid program in Egypt, USAID has refused to identify all the groups that received money and the grant amounts. The official said the agency disclosed the list to Egyptian leaders, but will not release information publicly about grant recipients that don't want to be identified. That has surprised some State Department officials.

"All I remember is, there were weekly meetings this time last year about how this all had to be posted publicly," said a senior State Department official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive diplomatic matters. More than a year after citizens rallied in Tahrir Square for new leadership, the U.S.-Egypt relationship remains fragile.

✪ The article quotes Frank Wisner — whom I consider too close to the Egyptian military. Wisner is a lobbyist for the US defense industry and was the Obama administration's conduit to the military during the 2011 uprising. He's hardly an impartial man.

✪ The article perpetuates the myth that it's all about Fayza Aboul Naga — the real question is, who egged her on and backed her and coordinated the campaign of anti-Americanism in the Egyptian state media? US officials focus on Fayza because the real target — the military and the intelligence services — they don't want to confront. (She's a handy scapegoat for Congress, too.)

Overall this uncovers one important element — contrary to its mission and its statements IRI was engaged in biased political activity, and in doing so has damaged any similar efforts by other organizations. In the overall take of the story, however, apart from the over-funding of IRI and NDI, the article gives the impression of US conspiracy against SCAF and the MB. This is hardly true, since the US has collaborated closely with the military and engaged vigorously with the MB. The money and efforts spent trying to support the "liberal" parties is minimal and not very effective.

There is no conspiracy to empower liberals in Egypt, there is only a focus on retaining core interest — military cooperation, Israel — no matter who is in power. Beyond that, democracy promotion through things like party training does very little except make US politicians who fund it feel good and give officials a talking point. I don't know whether the US can encourage more democracy in Egypt, but it can certainly encourage less autocracy — by stopping the military aid to the country.

On the future of Egypt-US relations

Steve Cook has a piece at The Atlantic in which he argues that, Shafiq or Morsi, Egypt-US relations have a poor future. He says:

The American military aid to Egypt has become an annual political fight with Congress over conditionality that doesn't sit well with the officers in addition to the fact that $1.3 billion, which needs to be spent in the United States, doesn't buy all that much these days. Moreover, the remnants of the old regime, of which Shafiq is now the standard bearer, were angry over the way the United States handled the uprising. Hosni Mubarak carried Washington's water in the Middle East for almost 30 years to his political detriment and from where supporters of the old regime sit, the Obama administration unceremoniously dumped a longtime ally. I am told that the felool are over it. I am not convinced, but even if they are, it is hard to believe that President Shafiq will embrace the United States given the way Mubarak was treated. Mind you, that doesn't mean that the Obama administration pursued the wrong policy when it came to the conclusion that the Egyptian president had to go, but that Shafiq and his supporters likely have a different view of that episode and it could affect bilateral relations.

Finally, precisely because Shafiq represents the old order, he needs to demonstrate some space between himself and the policies of the past. Even if he wants to roll back the changes that have occurred since the uprising and has held himself out as the restorer of order, the uprising has fundamentally altered Egypt's political arena in important ways. For all their problems and political limitations, revolutionary groups, liberals, leftists, Salafists and a variety of others have discovered ways to make their voices heard. It's clear that Shafiq understands this as he has softened his position on the uprising considerably since it became evident that he would be in the run-off. Like Morsi, Shafiq needs to appeal to voters beyond his natural constituency. The twin exigencies of broadening his base and demonstrating that he isn't Hosni Mubarak in a different Rolex and a cardigan sweater means that, among other things, Shafiq may well run and potentially govern against the United States. The U.S.-Egypt relationship is too big and juicy a political target for Shafiq to ignore because it serves both of his political interests at once.

So you see, no dancing in the streets outside the State Department, the champagne will not flow at the Pentagon, the spies out in Langley won't declare a long weekend. Whether it is Morsi or Shafiq, the party is over for Washington. Rather it is time for Washington to take stock and adjust to Egypt's new reality.

 I left a comment in which I disagree with his take:

Can't say I agree with you Steve. Obama administration seemed ok with Brotherhood a few months ago and thought they would elect a president but defer to military on security policy. Core interests like Suez Canal passage, overflight, quasi-basing rights have been secured. A quick look at the latest Congressional foreign appropriations bill suggests full support for FMF and any "punishing" of Egypt is only taking place out of ESF, laughably. Also disagree with your take that Obama pushed Mubarak out. The Egyptian military did that to save itself, and the US has effectively backed its handling of the transition despite public statements to the contrary, since a military remaining in charge suggests continuity and more of the same on core issues: Israel and military cooperation. The exercise of the waiver on FMF (Foreign Military Financing) is the proof of this.

What, in any case, can the next Egyptian president really do to "govern against the United States"? Nothing important like ending military alliance, realigning itself with other regional powers. Egypt will just continue to be the difficult ally it was under Mubarak. You'll have issues that will consume a lot of media attention like the NGO affair but ultimately do not make a dent in bilateral relations, and many Congressmen completely willing to spread the myth that it's not the military but Fayza Aboul Naga who is to blame. The idea that Egypt-US relations have substantially changed is misleading, right now, as long as the military is in charge of key issues, it's more of the same until I see a US warship having to wait two weeks to get through the Canal or, at minimum, Egypt abandoning the Quartet policies and Roadmap on Israel/Palestine.

My evidence for little change in Egypt-US relations is that even as it backed a return to civilian rule, it also backed the military takeover from Mubarak from the get go (even though you might argue that legislation in place to suspend relations with states where a military coup has taken place should have been applied.) Subsequent behavior suggests continued backing for the military even when it repressed and killed protestors (the initial reason for backing the military was, after all, that it did not fire on protestors during the initial 2011 uprising) and when the government it appointed directly challenged the US over the NGO affair.

A glance at the latest Foreign Operations Appropriations bill suggests that Congress, too, is not eager to put any pressure of consequence on the Egyptian military. Consider angry Congress' reaction to the NGO debacle:

  • It conditions assistance on the governments being "sincere in the pursuit of democracy, based on Millennium Challenge Corporation standards;
  • It prohibits assistance if a government "is actively and significantly interfering with the operation of civil society organizations";
  • It reimburses the US government for the $5m expense of having paid the bail of the US citizens indicted in the NGO affair.

That sounds tough, right? Well not really: all of these conditions are only places on economic assistance, not the military aid package. So basically it punished civilian government for decisions made by the military, cutting from the aid package most Americans will go to democracy promotion, entrepreneurship, education, etc. But not F16s. (Overall economic aid to Egypt remains about the same $250m).

What's more, with regards to the national security waiver on conditionality for military aid, which have been exercised by every administration since first implemented in 2006,  new language has been added. While there is a demand for greater coordination with Congress before exercising a waiver. From an excellent POMED report [PDF] on this:

The national security waiver on Egypt’s FMF is only applicable to Egypt’s commitment to democratic processes and freedoms, and cannot be applied if the Government of Egypt fails to meet its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Additionally, a new provision requires the administration to consult with Congress prior to issuing a national security waiver if they elect to issue a waiver in FY13 as they did in the previous fiscal year.

Translated into plain English, this is a license to protect the military funding from being cut in cases of regression on democratic progress or abuse of human rights, and ensure it ONLY applies with regards to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. SCAF will get the message as follows: do what you want domestically, just don't mess with the Israelis. 

The fact is there is little serious concern about Egypt's transition in Congress or the US government more generally. There is concern about Israel, and about continued military cooperation with the Egyptians which makes many things easier for US military operations in the region. Yes, some politicians are offended by Egyptian behavior over the NGO crisis, which was a poke in the eye to politically-connected institutions such as IRI and NDI. But what happened just after that: no punishment on the Egyptian military which was behind the case, and the weaving of an unlikely tale swallowed by Congress and others by which a civilian female minister was able to wield awesome power and jeopardize bilateral relations.

A petulant Egypt provoking mini-crises over civil society and other issues as bargaining chips to protect the military relationship? Nothing very new in that, I'm afraid. With SCAF or its presidential candidate in charge, at least, it will be more business as usual.

Counterterrorism Calculus in Yemen Shortchanging Political Solutions

Diplomat, area expert and CT whizz-kid Mr. Pred Ator Jr., seen here enjoying a lemonade on a sunny day.

Correction: This post was mistakenly attributed to Issandr El Amrani when first published. It was actually written by Paul Mutter — apologies.

The Washington Post, stating what ought to be obvious about the US “secret war” in Yemen:

In Yemen, U.S. airstrikes breed anger, and sympathy for al-Qaeda

Since January, as many as 21 missile attacks have targeted suspected al-Qaeda operatives in southern Yemen, reflecting a sharp shift in a secret war carried out by the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command that had focused on Pakistan.

But as in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where U.S. drone strikes have significantly weakened al-Qaeda’s capabilities, an unintended consequence of the attacks has been a marked radicalization of the local population.

The evidence of radicalization emerged in more than 20 interviews with tribal leaders, victims’ relatives, human rights activists and officials from four provinces in southern Yemen where U.S. strikes have targeted suspected militants. They described a strong shift in sentiment toward militants affiliated with the transnational network’s most active wing, al-Qaeda in the ­Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP.

Presumably, the CIA would disagree that this sort of approach is undermining US counterterrorism efforts - even though it it is said that it deeply disturbs the White House when “errors” like this occur:

On December 17 [2009], the Yemeni government announced that it had conducted a series of strikes against an Al Qaeda training camp in the village of al Majala in Yemen’s southern Abyan province, killing a number of Al Qaeda militants. As the story spread across the world, Shaye traveled to al Majala. What he discovered were the remnants of Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs, neither of which are in the Yemeni military’s arsenal. He photographed the missile parts, some of them bearing the label “Made in the USA,” and distributed the photos to international media outlets. He revealed that among the victims of the strike were women, children and the elderly. To be exact, fourteen women and twenty-one children were killed. Whether anyone actually active in Al Qaeda was killed remains hotly contested.

Or rather, we believe it deeply disturbs the White House, since as the Daily Kos diarist Jesselyn Radack notes, the White House “can neither confirm nor deny” the air war in Yemen and invokes a black ops non-disclosure rule to keep the books closed.

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When Pizza Becomes Policy

Like US policy in Bahrain, this looks repulsive. Credit: Arabian Business

Paul Mutter sends in this inspired analogy on US policy towards Bahrain, where the crackdown continues.

Pizza Hut’s Crown Crust Pizza is a good metaphor for up the US’s Bahrain policy: stuff ’em full of meats and cheeses in the hopes that such largesse predisposes them to better hear us out on human rights. This month the US lifted restrictions on a host of sales to the Bahraini military, going well beyond previous exemptions made since the 2011 freeze on a US$53 million arms deal, reportedly in the hopes of raising the profile of the Crown Prince at home following his visit to the US:

“The administration didn’t want the crown prince to go home empty-handed because they wanted to empower him,” said Tom Malinowski, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, who was arrested in Bahrain while documenting protests there last month. “They placed a lot of hope in him, but he can’t deliver unless the king lets him and right now the hard-liners in the ruling family seem to have the upper hand.”

The crown prince has been stripped of many of his official duties recently, but is still seen as the ruling family member who is most amenable to working constructively with the opposition and with the United States.

Problem is, several commentators have noted, is that often times after a big meal the last thing you want to do is talk. The Crown Prince is thought to be facing down a hardline clique helmed by the Defense Minister Khalifa bin Ahmad and his brother, Royal Court Minister Khalid bin Ahmad who have conspired to force the prince out of his perch in the Defense Ministry to buttress the Sunni factions that reject dialogue with the opposition.

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Swift boat to Bahrain

If it looks like an arms deal, walks like an arms deal and quacks like an arms deals, is it an arms deal? The State Department says no:

“Today, officials from the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs and State’s Legislative Affairs office briefed select congressional offices about their decision to transfer seven rigid-hull inflatable boats and 12 32-foot Boston Whaler boats from the U.S. Navy in Bahrain to the Bahrain government. Offices briefed ahead of the Friday formal notification included aides to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the offices of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-WY) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), two lawmakers who have been leading the congressional opposition to continued U.S. arms sales to Bahrain.”

“This isn’t a new package or policy decision. This is part of what was briefed to Congress in January. We are still maintaining a pause on most security cooperation for Bahrain pending further progress on reform,” a State Department official told The Cable today. “The transfer of these boats are necessary to protect U.S. naval personnel and assets based in Bahrain. None of these items can be used against protestors. The transfer does not include any arms and the boats are intended for patrol missions, which is critical for ensuring a robust and layered defense of Bahrain’s coast and for enhancing Bahrain’s ability to counter maritime threats to U.S. and coalition vessels.”

The real story out of Bahrain these days, though, is not the gift of some old PT boats, but with the vagaries of the dialogue going on between the pro-government camp and the predominantly Shia opposition groups, increasingly splitting between the leading pro-dialogue al-Wifaq group and younger demonstrators opposed to al-Wifaq’s stance.

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Now that the American NGO workers are safe, let's review aid to Egypt

A few minutes ago the plane carrying NGO workers out of Egypt took off, ending the diplomatic spat between Washington and Cairo. Concerns naturally remain about the other nationals, most notably the Egyptians involved who risk the most. And as predicted outrage over what appears to be a clear case of executive pressure being put on the judges is mounting, including from NGOs that have been targeted themselves and have denounced the case as a political fabrication from the beginning. For instance this press release from the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession:

The ACIJLP raises many concerns regarding the decision of judges' step-down in view of the reasons that have been announced by the judges which have been represented in "Feeling of Embarrassment", as well as the time of such decision which came before the judges' consideration in the complaint submitted by 8 foreigners regarding the decision to prevent them from traveling, a matter which make the ACIJLP believes that there is an inappropriate interventions which may be practiced against the Department of the Cairo Criminal Court with respect to this case.

Whether such interventions, about which ACIJLP is concerned, are practiced by members who belong to the judicial authority like the Head of the Court of Appeal in Cairo, or by executive bodies which led the judged to step down, this is considered the first event of its kind. It is considered an intervention in and breach of the independence of judges and the judicial authority in Egypt. The Egyptian judiciary has long been suffering from the practices which violate its independence like exploiting it in political disputes; starting from tracing opponents and political activists, imposing guard on syndicates, and at last banning civil NGOs work.

In support of the independence of the Egyptian judiciary, the ACIJLP calls upon the president of the Supreme Judicial Council to open an independent and urgent investigation to uncover the circumstances of the decision of the judges' step-down and to detect any pressure has been practiced whether by the government or those engaged in such pressure and to use fair trial, if necessary.

If I were an Egyptian politician, I'd be calling for the heads of a lot of the officials involved to roll.

But let us sidestep this issue and discuss the future of the aid relationship. Why should the US continue to provide aid for a country that accuses it of trying to split it up and, specifically, to a military establishment that is neither democratic nor that particularly friendly? There may be strategic reasons, but the core reason is one of political corruption — not in Egypt, but in the US. Shana Marshall makes this point well in Why the U.S. won’t cut military aid to Egypt:

The recent crackdown on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt has sparked a new round of diplomatic hand wringing over Washington's long-standing military aid program. Despite tepid threats from the White House and Congress, the United States is unlikely to end official military assistance -- not because of concerns over Egypt's peace treaty with Israel or Washington's desire to maintain influence over Cairo -- but because the aid benefits a small and influential coterie of elites in both capitals. In the United States, the aid program provides a large and predictable source of demand for weapons exporters, while in Cairo, collaborative military production with U.S. firms help subsidize the army's commercial economic ventures.

Although domestic interest groups are rarely invoked in the debate over military aid to Egypt, the $1.3 billion in annual assistance represents a significant subsidy to U.S. weapons manufacturers. For instance, the General Dynamics manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio where the M1A1 Abrams tank is built will not have more work orders from the U.S. Army until 2017 when the current M1 tank fleet is up for refurbishing. Egypt's latest $1.3 billion order of 125 M1A1s (Cairo's 11th order since the late 1980s) will keep those production lines open until 2014 building knock down kits that are then shipped and assembled in Egypt. Although shipping fully assembled tanks to Egypt would employ more U.S. workers, without the contract the Lima plant (in a crucial electoral swing state) would shutter its doors and General Dynamics's bottom line would take a serious hit. Looming reductions in the U.S. defense budget have made General Dynamics and other defense producers even more concerned with keeping such funding channels open.

That's why Washington does not want aid cut: it's, among other things, a subsidy for the US defense industry. No doubt there's also senior Pentagon and DoD officials who want to back it in the hope of landing plush jobs at Raytheon and elsewhere when they retire (in this respect the US is not unlike Egypt) and Congresspeople like pleasing donors and creating jobs for constituents.

Yet the aid to Egypt is worth reviewing, both sides, now more than ever before — and that conversation should start with the new president of Egypt, who hopefully will not be a front for the Egyptian military.

 

Aronson on the US-Egypt NGO debacle

This opinion piece on the US-Egypt NGO crisis was sent in by Geoffrey Aronson. Aronson is director of the Foundation for Middle East Peace in Washington and author of From Sideshow to Center Stage – US Policy towards Egypt.

There is an increasing chorus of US voices among the policy cognoscenti and Congress threatening to stop over 1 billion in US aid to Egypt or to make it dependent upon some politicized certification of Egypt’s democratic bona fides. This course risks undermining the foundations of a core relationship at the very moment when the promise of building a new and reinvigorated partnership is on the horizon. However good it may feel, being right about what the State Department has described as Egypt’s “persecution” of US employees of the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute and Freedom House for assisting local civil society groups is not as useful as being smart. The emotive issues highlighted by their conflict with the Egyptian government cannot be permitted to become the centerpiece of bilateral relations. Doing so plays into the hands of counter-revolution, creates the impression that US-Egyptian relations are simply a test of wills, and feeds Egyptian suspicions that the West is using “democracy” as a cynical tool to short-circuit the revolution.

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A point of clarification on US aid to Egypt and peace with Israel

It has been much-reported that Muslim Brotherhood spokesman / head of parliamentary foreign relations committee Essam al-Erian threatened to review the peace treaty with Israel should aid be cut. See for instance:

In the clearest of multiple Brotherhood statements on the subject, Essam al-Erian, who is chairman of the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the aid was ''one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement, so if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties''.

 

''We will be harmed,'' he added, ''so it is our right to review the matter.''

Other Muslim Brotherhood leaders have repeated the argument that a cut in aid could lead them to review the treaty, or that such a cut would be in breach of the treaty.

To my knowledge, this has no basis in law. The MB may want to review the peace treaty, as many others in Egypt want to, in order to renegotiate the degree to which the military can operate in Sinai. There are good reasons to do so in order to gain better control of the Peninsula. But the aid has nothing to do with the treaty. This was confirmed recently by Jimmy Carter when he was in Cairo, and you can check the text of the treaty itself.

Generally speaking, there is a confusion of terms on this issue.

  • The 1978 Camp David negotiations led to the drafting of a broad set of principles known as the Accords, that would look at a global solution to the Arab-Israeli crisis, including its Israeli-Palestinian component. While signed by the US, Egypt and Israel, the accords were never implemented, largely because the Israelis did not want them to be.
  • The 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt delineated borders, paved the way for the return of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, and imposed restrictions on military activity in Egypt. It does not contain any provisions for aid.
  • An aid relationship exists between Israel and the US and Egypt and the US (with the latter since 1975). It was informally framed after Camp David as partly a reward for the peace, and partly to ensure that Israel would get proportionally more aid than Egypt and be helped by the US to retain a military edge. These terms were negotiated, and later renegotiated between the militaries and governments of the three countries, but there is nothing in the treaty itself that obliges the US to disburse aid of any kind to either country.

So when the Brothers make threats about a cut in aid leading to the collapse of the treaty, they either don't know what they're talking about or are making baseless threats. And moreover, by linking aid to the treaty, they are in effect suggesting that Egypt's policy towards Israel is indeed up for sale, and that they will gladly take the money to remain quiet on Egypt-Israeli relations. Is this what they meant to say, after having spent much of the last three decades denouncing the treaty and Egypt's slavish acquiescence to pro-Israel US policies?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Egypt: Abu Ismail's campaign against US aid

The above graphic is from the Facebook page of presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, aka the world's cuddliest Salafi. It says "Buy your dignity for only LE72".

The calculation it makes is that Egypt's $1.3bn in US military aid amounts to about LE6bn, which divided by 84 million Egyptians makes just about LE72. What a bargain! Of course Sheikh Hazem — a Salafi from the Muslim Brotherhood (the MB-Salafi distinction becomes irrelevant away from syndicate and national politics) — is always full of brilliant ideas. His entry on Wikipedia says he "has presented 10 great national projects in all fields to overcome most of the Egyptian people problems." I'll have to do a fuller profile at some point.

Yet another sign that the US-Egypt NGO crisis is plumbing into new depths of facile populism. Of course, not only on the Egyptian side.

US-Egypt: Time to part ways?

Steve Cook on the NGO affair and what it means for Egypt-US relations:

If there is a bit of healthy distance between the two countries, Egypt might regain some of its lost regional luster, Washington will not be an easy target to blame if the Egyptian transition falters, and the two countries could very well find their way back to each other not as strategic partners, but as respectful allies. Whatever the long-term outcome, Washington and Cairo need to release themselves from their mutual tribulations.  The relationship is outmoded as it is currently configured.  It’s time to untangle ties before any more damage is done.

I feel like I've been saying this for years. It's probably better for both countries to shed the old baggage and restart on a new footing. And I should note that, as an American, I'm very supportive of bilateral collaboration with Egypt on all sorts of things – especially infrastructure, education and technology – but not under the old Camp David framework. 

And I'd love to see things start off on the US side with a commitment to full transparency on the bilateral relationship, because Washington could be as secretive as Cairo on many aspects of it when the citizens of both countries deserved better.

Names of indicted in Egypt's NGO affair

Via @adamakary who had the scoop and live-tweeted it, here are the names and nationalities of the 44 persons indicted by the Egyptian public prosecutor in the illegal foreign funding NGOs affair (actual spelling may differ):

  • Konrad Adenauer (2): Andreas Jacobs (DE) and Christina Baade (DE)
  • International Center For Journalists (5): Patrick Butler (US), Natasha Tynes (US), Mida(?) Michelle (US), Yehya Zakaria (EG) Islam Shafiq (EG) 
  • Freedom House (7): Charles Dunne (US), Sherif Ahmed Sobhi Mansour (US), Samir Salim (Jordan), Mohamed Abdel Aziz (EG), Nancy Gamal Okeyl (EG), Basem Ali (EG), Magdy Moharam (EG)
  • International Republican Institute (14): Sam Lahood (US), Sherien Sahany (US), Christine Angel (US) Sort Chik (Serb), Hans Homis (Serb), John George (US), Reeda Khedr (Palestinian), Osama Azizi (US), Sian Mark (US), Elizabeth Dugan (US), Ahmed Shawqi (EG), Ahmed Abdel Aziz (EG), Ahmed Adam (EG), Essam Borei (EG)
  • National Democratic Institute (16): Julie Hughes (US), Almadin Krotovich (Serb), Bomeedir Milic (Serb), Layla Gafar (US), Robert Becker (US), Kabir Moderibee (US), Mariana Koravitch (Serb), Sitia Sia Leenhag (US), Dana Dikono (US), Ali Suleiman (Leb), Maron Safir (Leb), Michael James (US), Mohamed Ashraf (EG), Radwa Sayid (EG), Hafsa Halawa (EG), Amgad Morsi (EG)

Al-Ahram has also published a full list with ages in Arabic, but not affiliations.

I must say I really don't know how this is going to play out. It may be they are being indicted to fast-track the judicial process so that they can go to mistrial and acquittal and get the whole thing done with. Or they may convict, sentencing fines and, for the good cop part, go ahead with registration of these NGOs. Or worse...

Update: A few more details via Abdel Rahman Hussein, for the Guardian:

Judge Ashraf al-Ashmawy confirmed on Monday the case had been referred to the Cairo criminal court, where the NGO workers will face charges of "accepting funds and benefits from an international organisation" to pursue an activity "prohibited by law".

They are also accused of carrying out "political training programmes", supporting election campaigns and illegally financing individuals and groups, the judge said in a statement.

Those involved waited in trepidation for further details. "It's inexplicable," said Julie Hughes, country director of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). "We don't even know what the charges are."

"I'm trying to stay optimistic but I'd be lying if I said this wasn't stressful on me, the organisation, our families. But I'm proud of the individuals working here. We'll hang in there."

Dunne & Nawaz: US should not repeat Pakistan mistakes in Egypt

From a NYT op-ed by Michele Dunne and Shuja Nawaz:

A dismayed Congress has attached conditions to future military assistance to Egypt (now $1.3 billion a year), requiring the Obama administration to certify that the military government is maintaining peace with Israel, allowing a transition to civilian rule and protecting basic freedoms — or to waive the conditions on national security grounds — if it wants to keep aid flowing.

The Egyptian military is clearly not meeting at least two of those three conditions right now. Consequently, the Obama administration should not certify compliance, nor should it invoke the national security waiver by arguing that Egyptian-Israeli peace is paramount and that Egypt’s military is the only bulwark against Islamist domination of the country — because both of these arguments are deeply flawed.

First, hardly anyone in Egypt favors war with Israel, and a freeze or suspension of American aid would not change that. Second, continuing support to an Egyptian military that is bent on hobbling a liberal civil society would only strengthen Islamist domination. Islamist groups won some 70 percent of seats in the recent parliamentary elections, but they will now face tremendous pressure to solve the deep economic and political problems that caused the revolution.

In Egypt, as in Pakistan, the ultimate solution is a peaceful transfer of power to elected, accountable civilians and the removal of the military’s overt and covert influence from the political scene. At a minimum, Egypt should establish the clear supremacy of the civilian government over the military and allow an unfettered civil society to flourish.

Washington should suspend military assistance to Egypt until those conditions are met. Taking that difficult step now could help Egypt avoid decades of the violence, terrorism and cloak-and-dagger politics that continue to plague Pakistan.

An excellent argument I wholeheartedly agree with. Glad to see Dunne – one of the better Egypt experts and policy advocates in Washington – take this line. We chatted last February or so and I was saying the same thing but she thought it would be unwise to punish the generals when they had just refused to protect Mubarak. I'm glad she has come around. It's also important to see here, at least implied, an echo of the argument I have been making for a year for the decoupling of Camp David from the US-Egypt relationship. The idea that the US has been bribing Egypt to stop it from going to war with Israel has always been absurd – under Mubarak and today.

Sen. Leahy declares war on Fayza Aboul Naga

From a statement on the dispute over US NGOs in Egypt by Senator Patrick Leahy:

Many suspect that the force behind this crackdown is Minister of International Cooperation, Faiza Aboul Naga, who was described in a Washington Post editorial this week as “a civilian holdover from the Mubarak regime” and “an ambitious demagogue [who] is pursuing a well-worn path in Egyptian politics – whipping up nationalist sentiment against the United States as a way of attacking liberal opponents at home.”  Given Minister Aboul Naga’s recent statements, I strongly believe that no future U.S. Government funds should be provided to or through that ministry as long as she is in charge.  As the chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, I am confident there is strong support in Congress for this position.

Read the full statement here. This diplomatic spat has just gotten a whole lot more interesting.

[Via @kristenchick]