WaPo crap on US aid to Egypt

Update: I am a moron, the article this refers to is old. Am keeping this up though, so I didn't waste my time entirely.


This guy Howard Schneider, writing for the WaPo, is sore replacement for their previous correspondents in Cairo. Not only does he do a piece praising US aid to Egypt while his newspaper's columnists have been highly critical of the US-Egypt relationship, but he also has gems like this:

At a time when Arabs often criticize U.S. intentions in the region as pro-Israeli, the notable thing about the overall American involvement here is that, in a plodding, persistent way, it appears to be making changes that improve Egyptians' lives. Per capita income has risen from about $ 1,000 a year to $ 1,300 in constant dollars, while gross domestic product has reached about $ 90 billion after several years of 5 percent growth.
First, that's completely unclear: does he mean since 1975 when aid started? One would hope income would rise in 30 years -- and in any case the causality is not at all apparent.

Alleviating debt and funding such infrastructure projects as sewerage systems and roads have been a big part of the program from the beginning--and the results are visible. The U.S. Agency for International Development also has become a driving force in a long-term effort to reform a number of Egypt's sclerotic public institutions--including the court, customs and financial systems--but the jury is still out on that project.
USAID, in my opinion, wastes taxpayers' money by trying to build stock markets. This is a strictly commercial venture and Egyptian bankers can do it by themselves -- especially when the end result is a market largely controlled by one company close to the regime, EFG-Hermes. as for the governance reform, most people agreed it's achieved nearly nothing. Why not say so?

Under the Camp David accords mediated by President Jimmy Carter, the United States struck a formula that provided Egypt with a level of assistance second only to Israel's roughly $ 3 billion a year. The 25-year undertaking that resulted--backed by hundreds of U.S. bureaucrats, advisers and contractors--has, among other things, restored a third of Egypt's electrical grid, rehabilitated a failing water and sewer system and created a telecommunications network.
That last sentence has the most important achievements of USAID -- the real tangible ones that have made a big difference, especially in sanitation and communications. But alongside that how much is wasted (in terms of development value) in terms of facilitating credit for Egyptian importers of US goods and other commercial aims? Why does he not mention the statistic, given to me by a grizzled US diplomats, that an estimated 72% of US aid to Egypt ends up with American companies?

As market reforms take hold, the tale of the last two decades can be seen nightly on television, which used to carry the fiery rhetoric of president Gamal Abdel Nasser but is now full of commercials--including Egypt's glitzy attempts to market its cultural treasures to international tourists.
Risible. Are commercials development? Did he not notice that the "fiery rhetoric" of Abdel Nasser been replaced by the crass and dull rhetoric of Mubarak?

"The farmer's butter tasted good, but this is better. You feel safer. You know it's clean," said Sanaya Hassein, a social worker who was trolling the aisles of a Sainsbury's store near the Pyramids. "Of course, the competition is much better. They have brought more imports, and it has changed prices a lot. People are very poor, and this gives a choice."
Imports have lowered prices of food and essential goods? Maybe for some things -- although many Egyptian columnists who constantly blame imports for inflation and trade imbalance disagree -- but do the poorest people shop at Sainsbury's?

It is on the institutional reform effort that most doubts arise. Egypt is a society in which, aid or no aid, life and attitudes change slowly. The country has produced two Nobel Prize winners, the novelist Naguib Mahfouz and the American-trained chemist Ahmed Zuweil. But it has not gotten the formula right for brickmaking or building inspections, and houses and apartments collapse frequently.
Er... dude, buildings in Egypt don't collapse because the bricks are badly made. They collapse because public officials are corrupted and turn a blind eye to illegal extra floors and construction standards. Egypt actually has one of the biggest construction industries in the region, and an Egyptian company (Orascom) does tons of contracting for the US Army across the region.

I could go on...
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.