The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The politics of hypocrisy, Part II

The regime's sponsors in Washington are still debating the sweet $1.7 billion of US tax-payers money, given in the form of economic and military aid to Mubarak. Here are excerpts from the US House of Representatives' International Relations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday...
Jon Alterman reiterated his position, of continuing the aid without cutting a dime, coz it’s ineffectual, and because Egypt is just too valuable in the war on terror, maintaining peace with Israel, bla bla bla bla bla.
Alterman of course said the US should still lobby Mubarak to democratize, without saying how.
First he puts forward “several reasons� for he why was “not persuaded that any amount of U.S. pressure can fundamentally change the Egyptian government’s actions.�
I am not gonna waiste your time with those “several reasons,� since you can read the full testimony here. I’ll just skip to the last two of the "several reasons," which Alterman should have just saved our time and put them in the beginning, as they sum up the vision of Mubarak’s supporters in DC.
In addition, it would be hard to impose strict conditionality credibly, for two reasons.
First, there is just so much that the United States asks Egypt for on Arab-Israeli issues, counterterrorism, military transport through the Suez Canal, and so on, that American diplomats are unlikely to sacrifice near term needs for uncertain long-term reward.
Second, the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in recent elections, combined with Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian Authority, will lead many in the United States to question just how quickly we want democracy to take hold in such a vital ally.
None of this is to say that the United States government should not speak out on issues of freedom and political participation. This administration has done so clearly, and I believe it has had a positive effect, albeit a limited one. They should continue to do so. Overall, I believe U.S. officials are more effective indicating their seriousness to the Egyptian government than they are at inspiring the Egyptian people. As friends of Egypt with shared interests, we should not shirk from telling our friends when they are harming our interests, as well as their own, and we should not be complicit in abuses that they commit.

As for Michele Dunne, the editor of Arab Reform Bulletin, she suggested conditioning the aid. (Dunne's full testimony)
How exactly should the United States employ its influence in Egypt to encourage constructive change? The United States has a wide range of tools at its disposal, from policy decisions about senior official visits to and from Egypt, military relations, and trade relations, to the military and economic assistance packages. It might well be necessary to condition military or economic assistance on political reforms at some juncture, although it will be difficult to carry off successfully. At this moment, when Egypt will soon be facing a leadership transition, what the United States should be doing is conveying the message in private that it is time to reach a broad new understanding within which to renew the relationship, an understanding that includes the political reforms demanded by the Egyptian people

Mr. Raffi Vartian, of the Leadership Council for Human Rights (I have no clue what this group is), delved into issues of civil liberties, democracy, Ayman Nour, and the situation of Copts, Baha’is, Bedouins. (Vartian's full testimony)
When officials from the State Department testified before this Subcommittee last month, they strongly advised against any reduction in the annual funding package for Egypt. It was important, they noted, to maintain our close and strategically important relationship with Egypt. The Leadership Council for Human Rights is not suggesting that the U.S. reduce its aid to Egypt, but it is critical to thoroughly examine the way these funds have been allocated. As noted in today’s testimony, the vast majority of Egyptian people are in many instances no better off today then they were 30 years ago. Where has US assistance gone? Is the primary return on the American people’s investment of some $60 billion the denial of basic freedoms and desperate poverty?
There needs to be a frank and open conversation with the Egyptian government about its systemic problems (poverty, poor health care, inadequate education and corruption) and their predictable consequences (lack of basic freedoms and institutionalized discrimination). This should take place in a forum and manner that is open and transparent to the American and Egyptian people. The last 30 years of U.S. aid to Egypt has not benefited the Egyptian people. The next 30 must.
The Leadership Council for Human Rights humbly suggest the following:
• That members of this Subcommittee should demand immediate release and complete amnesty for Ayman Nour;
• That members of this Subcommittee should demand visitation and access to Ayman Nour as long as he remains a prisoner, as the Egyptian government has failed to allow parliamentarians from any country to meet with him. Mr. Nour suffers from serious health problems including diabetes, and his physical health must be ensured;
• That an Ombudsman, mandated by Congress, should be stationed in Egypt to investigate where U.S. foreign aid goes and what impact it has on the Egyptian people;
• That aid funds should be redistributed, with military and economic assistance levels flipped. The Egyptian government has enough tanks and guns. The Egyptian people need better access to education and healthcare;
• That the U.S. government should demand accountability for the development of civic society programs, helping to alleviate the triggers for the problems that Egypt faces. By building the civic society of Egypt through improved health care, education and infrastructure, Egypt will make significant progress in the years to come;
• That a center for the promotion of democracy and civil society, based on the model of the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo, but with a greater focus on grassroots development, should be opened in Alexandria to support the efforts of the courageous activists in that city. It should be a place where any person can come to learn more about tolerance, understanding and ways to work together to build a stronger Egypt from the ground up;
• That the Egyptian government must be encouraged to invest more resources, time and long term strategic thought to basic health care and education. The ever widening gap between the haves and have nots is a serious threat to the long-term stability of the Egyptian society and the Middle East in general.

(Also see: The politics of hypocrisy, Part I)