The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged aid
US aid and Egypt: back to business as usual

Josh Rogin, reporting for Daily Beast, says the path is now clear to restore US aid to Egypt to its full level. Here's a quote from Michele Dunne that pretty much sums it up:

“I think there’s a sense of giving up on Egypt [inside of the Obama administration], on the Hill as well,” said Dunne. “There’s a sense that ‘Oh well they tried a democratic transition, it didn’t work, but we don’t want to cut ourselves off from Egypt as a security ally, so let’s just forget about the whole democracy and human rights thing except for giving it some lip service from time to time.’”

Also see this report from Ali Gharib on the crucial role Israel and its US lobby played in mustering Congressional support for this.

Last summer, the language on draft bills from the House and Senate on Egypt suggested a substantial reduction in aid and/or the linking of the aid to various requirements, and also threatened to drop the usual waiver the administration could exercise. Now, the administration is only required to certify that Egypt is maintaining good relations with Israel. The path is clear to restore the aid, and the bilateral relationship, to its Mubarak-era level.

Egypt and its patrons
Egypt's new patrons? A poster in Cairo thanks the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE -- and Russia.  

Egypt's new patrons? A poster in Cairo thanks the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE -- and Russia.  

Why does Egypt receive between $1.3 and $1.5 billion of US aid annually?

"Because of Israel" is the most common answer to that question. Certainly, that is driving much of the American political wrangling over whether aid should be suspended. The New York Times reports that during the back-and-forth among the US and its allies leading up to Morsi's ouster, Israeli officials argued against cuts, and told the military not to put stock in US threats to cut off aid. The Israelis, like the US, greatly prefer the Egyptian security forces to be in charge of the country. Whatever, the depredations of Mubarak, the Brotherhood, or the counterrevolution, Egypt is too valuable for any American leader to risk "losing."

But though the Muslim Brotherhood signaled it might be less hostile to Hamas or Iran than Mubarak was, in practice the former president did little to change existing policies. Under Morsi's short presidency, the Egyptians even stepped up the destruction of smuggling tunnels into the coastal strip (moreover, the Egyptians were reportedly instrumental in negotiating an end to Operation Pillar of Cloud last winter).

Both Israel and Egypt have many shared interests in the Sinai, especially as the security situation deteriorates. Though Egyptian pressure on Gaza is massively increasing now, it was never seriously in jeopardy under the Brotherhood given that the terrorists and criminal gangs in the Sinai were going after both the SCAF- and Brotherhood-led Egyptian state, and it served Morsi little to champion the Palestinian cause while in office.

The massive corporate investment in Egyptian or Saudi defense expenditures certainly contributes to Congressional deliberations against aid cuts. And while one might examine the head of President Obama, and whether his reluctance to "take sides" really suggests a desire to reduce a US commitment to Egypt, the fact that the aid has not yet been publicly cut off suggests that Washington has tacitly taken a side: that of the military's, guarantor of the status quo.

It was, in fact, not just the Israelis telling General Sisi et al. to pay no mind to the US law that requires all aid to be suspended to a country if a coup takes place there. It was King Abdullah telling the Egyptian generals that the Kingdom would make up for any cutoffs in economic or military aid - the latter, almost assuredly in the form of American-made weapons in Riyadh's possession.

Riyadh's role is extremely important in all of this, especially with respect to Iran's containment. As the CNAS think tank noted in February 2011, Egypt's strategic importance in the wider region has nothing to do with the current deployment of US forces in the country, where the only fully staffed America military station is a US Navy medical center. It instead has to do with the nightmare scenario that would threaten the US's interests in the Persian Gulf: the sudden collapse of any one of the Gulf monarchies that host the radar sites, listening posts, airfields, and weapon emplacements pointing at Iran:

"The United States has no military bases of its own in Egypt. Its headquarters for directing air and ground troops in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Iraq, are in Qatar. Stockpiles of tanks, ammunition, fuel, spare parts and other war materiel are warehoused in Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. U.S. missile batteries are deployed along the Persian Gulf's west coast. The U.S. Navy's regional headquarters is in Bahrain.

But in contingencies or crises, American forces have depended heavily on Egyptian facilities built with U.S. aid to U.S. specifications to accommodate U.S. forces as they move from the United States and Europe to Africa or westward across Jordan and Saudi Arabia to the Persian Gulf. American nuclear powered aircraft carriers, whose jets are playing a major role in Afghanistan, rely critically on their expedited use of the Suez Canal, giving them easy access to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf."

Jane's Defence Weekly presented an analysis of commercial satellite imagery compiled between 2011 and 2012 to illustrate the expansion of US, UK, and GCC "conventional combat capabilities" in the Persian Gulf. The analysis highlighted the most salient points of this cooperation, which all ultimately leads back over that waterway and the Saudi desert to Egypt's own airspace and port facilities.

Meanwhile, the suggestion that the failure of the Brotherhood's political experiment in Egypt may be necessary for the House of Saud's survival is not farfetched. Though security concerns largely determine American actions, for the Saudis, there is also the matter of not wanting competition from the transnational Brotherhood as a mass Islamist movement.

While in years past, the Saudis supported the Brotherhood in Egypt - against Nasser, primarily, whose pan-Arabism and meddling in Yemen during the Cold War threatened the House of Saud's shaky legitimacy. But then the Brothers' messaging and aspirations began to appeal to dissidents within the Kingdom, as did other rival Islamist precepts, threatening absolute monarchy with the prospect of replacement. In recent years, top Saudi officials have made extremely negative remarks about the Brotherhood, most notably the late Crown Prince Nayef. Last month, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal fired a Kuwaiti preacher from his Al Resalah channel for having pro-Brotherhood leanings. As a Foreign Policy article recently noted about Saudi efforts to arm anti-Assad Syrian militias, "Saudi Arabia does not only despise the Muslim Brothers, but political Islamic movements and mass politics in general, which it sees as a threat to its model of absolute patrimonial monarchy."

German minister calls for Egypt aid suspension

Egypt's opposition calls for new protests on | tagesschau.de

From a German press report, machine-translated below :

German Development Minister Dirk Niebel feared in his own words that Egypt slips under President Mohammed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood in a dictatorship. There was a risk that the dictatorial Mubarak system auflebe with other people, he said, the "Berliner Zeitung". Given the uncertain conditions in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, an unstable Egypt is a huge security risk beyond the region.

According to Niebel, the German government restricted until further notice, the government contacts with Egypt. So, he wrote about the government canceled negotiations on development co-operation that should take place in mid-December. The planned partial debt relief of up to 240 million euros would be postponed, announced the Minister. "It is in the hands of the Egyptian government," said the FDP politician.

Meanwhile, complete silence from the EU, Catherine Ashton and most member states.

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.

The staggeringly stupid fallout of the US-Egypt aid debacle

A must-read column by DNE's Rania al-Malky on the stupid scheme to raise "Egyptian aid" to replace the foreign kind:

If one year after Egypt's downtrodden and destitute people toppled Mubarak with thunderous, unrelenting calls for bread, freedom and social justice, those very Egyptians are being coerced into donating part of their paltry salaries to support a government they did not choose, then it's safe to say that the 'revolution' has failed.

Love for one's country is one thing but bailing out a decrepit failed economy that has been systematically mismanaged for 30 decades, and especially so in a year of crisis, by appealing to the nationalist sentiments of people who can barely feed their families, borders on the criminal.

. . .

There have been mixed reports on whether the ‘donations’ by government employees will be voluntary. A leaked circular from the Tax Authority, incidentally headed by the wife of SCAF’s number two General Sami Anan, implied that those who refuse to abide by the ‘voluntary donation’ will end up with their name on some blacklist. Although the said Tax Authority chief Munira Al-Qady had denied in an Al-Ahram interview that the signature on the letter was not hers, and that in fact, she had identified the employee who both drafted the letter and forged her signature, she initiated no disciplinary or legal action against him, sufficing with moving him to a different department. She then drafted a second letter emphasizing that donations will only be deducted from salaries following the consent of employees.

The story just doesn’t gel.

Similar complaints by government employees in various fields have also been reported, with one school teacher from Mansoura telling Daily News Egypt that she was told that the salary cut will be made anyway and that those who did not wish to donate will have to present a written request for reimbursement. Another from Kafr El-Sheikh province said that not only will she be forced to make the donation, she will also not be compensated for supervising the Shoura Council elections for which she was promised LE 500.

To add insult to injury, and in violation of the law, there have been no announcements on where that money will be spent and who will be overseeing that spending, only some vague reference to the fact that it will not go into the state treasury, as if to assure the public that it will not be misappropriated.

It reminds me of when, in the late 1980s, King Hassan II on Morocco decided he would build the world's largest mosque in Casablanca. To finance the project  — he didn't want to pay for it himself despite being a billionaire — there was a fundraising scheme that called on all Moroccans to pay "a symbolic Dirham". In practice, civil servants were coerced into giving up sometimes over a month's wages and many businessmen were forced to give tens of thousands. The mosque is still there, but of course East Asian and Gulf countries have since built bigger ones, and have experienced either economic takeoffs in the meantime or were rich to start with. Morocco is still a struggling, poor country with a fragile economic fabric.

On another point: much of the fabric of Egypt's civil society, especially when it comes to human rights associations, was foreign-funded. That kind of political work scared off the business moguls who wanted to do little outside of things like poverty relief.

And finally: the idea that Egypt is dependent on US aid is a red herring. At about $250m a year from USAID, civilian aid to Egypt from Washington is small. It used to be more important, and to be honest Egyptians are pretty ungrateful about the work that was done by Americans in the 1980s and 1990s: without it, you might have had cholera epidemics in a Cairo that could no longer handle its sewage and treat its water, or today you might still wait years for a new phone line, a situation that stopped after a massive, partly US-funded, overhaul of Egypt's telecom infrastructure that paved the way to make Egypt a success story for internet penetration. The Egyptian government ruined itself in the wars with Israel, and seems to have never quite recovered from them (stupid policies and runaway population growth did not help either).

I've always felt that Egypt's problem is not money — it's much richer than Morocco, for instance, with a more cohesive population (one reason that infant mortality rates are much lower in Egypt and Morocco, for instance). It's governance. And for the current, temporary government to be calling for donations at the same time as it grants more exemptions on real estate taxes is pretty criminal — especially when most of the aid goes to the military and is completely unnacountable.

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]

The Egypt economy/aid debate

Over at the NYT's Room for Debate, the discussion is How Allies Can Help Egypt Get Back on Its Feet. I agree with Shadi Hamid that aid must be made conditional on clear benchmarks and with Khaled Fahmy on the need for transparency and accountability (which often is not given by the donors themselves). Ellen Lust makes excellent point that money can create new problems, what she calls the "bifurcation". As for Emad Shahin, who wants aid with no strings attached (here I think he means punitive neoliberal "reforms"), I've disagreed with him in the past. My bottom line: no completed transition, no aid.

Should the US cut its aid to Egypt?

With the Maspero massacre, the widespread use of military tribunals, high-profile detentions like that of Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mikael Nabil, and its apparent attempts to rig the next constitution, Egypt's current military junta isw not looking good to anyone, inside Egypt or outside. But to both, it also looks like the only choice, the devil you have to deal with. This ambivalence has now revived that old problem of US-Egypt relations in the Mubarak era, Washington's acute clientitis problem: you're stuck with a client regime you don't like, but have little alternative but to continue because of a set of related policy questions.

This was the reason that for years aid continued to flow to Egypt, despite some congressional opposition, even at the nadir of the relationship between the Bush administration and the Mubarak regime. Oddly, both the criticism of aid to Egypt in Congress and support for it in the administration has largely been about Israel. On the one hand, congresspeople wanted to pressure Egypt to do more on the Gaza/Hamas issue, and on the other the administration did not want to sever military aid it views as underwriting the trilateral relationship created by Camp David. A secondary concern was the late Mubarak regime's autocratic turn and, now, SCAF's increasingly autocratic and incompetent leadership.

I've argued here and elsewhere for a while that this trilateral relationship must end and be replaced by bilateral frameworks. And I've long been an opponent of foreign aid, whether in the Camp David framework or to the Egyptian and Israeli regimes in particular, for human rights issues. On Egypt, specifically, I tend to think the aid formula should be reworked bilaterally and with a simple condition attached: no transition to civilian rule, no military aid. And I believe that what the Egyptian military fears most of all is not the loss of that military aid, but the loss of the diplomatic support the US has given Egypt for decades to help it have a greater stature than it really has.

The Washington Post, a long-time critic of Egypt under Mubarak, makes the following case:

The Obama administration demonstrated during the revolution that it can sway Egypt’s generals: Washington successfully insisted that violence not be used to end the uprising and that Mubarak be forced to step down from the presidency. Now the administration — and Congress, if necessary — must insist that the armed forces respect their promise of a democratic transition. Egypt’s constituent assembly must have democratic legitimacy; Mr. Fattah and other political prisoners must be released. Above all, Egypt’s army should not be allowed to perpetuate its role as an unaccountable authority while still receiving billions in U.S. aid.

I'm not sure the Obama administration demonstrated anything except hesitation during the 18 days of the Egyptian uprising, and have been skeptical whether Washington's position was central at all to the military's decision not to fire on protesters. The decision the Egyptian military made was largely domestic, and it was about not firing on protestors to defend Mubarak. We know this because they've fired on protestors and arrested thousands since, to no strong protest from Washington. The idea that Obama was decisive in the last days of Mubarak is a myth, and one of the strongest indications of this was that the person sent to parlay with the generals was not the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense, but a retired ambassador close to the Egyptian military's lobby.

The current Washington moves to make aid to Egypt conditional, though offer a mixed bag. On the one hand, I support the general idea. On the other, I know Congress' motivation is probably not the same as mine. And I certainly understand the Pentagon and State Dept's fears if this goes through: that they will lose the little influence they have over Cairo.

Also in WaPo, Walter Pincus reports (also note the Israel aid stuff at the end):

A senior State Department official warned Friday that proposed congressional restrictions on military and economic aid to Egypt come “at the worst possible moment” and risk harming relations with the new government in Cairo.

Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said that, before Congress acts on legislation that could also cut off assistance to Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority, “We must ask ourselves, if we are no longer a partner, who will fill the void?”

House and Senate committees have added language to fiscal 2012 foreign assistance bills that would block the $1.3 billion in military aid that goes to Egypt annually if the government fails to hold free elections and take other steps toward reform. The president would have to certify that U.S. aid is in the national interest.

The legislation could also block funds intended for Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority.

Shapiro said the administration is working on Capitol Hill to get the provisions removed or at least modified.

“The administration believes that putting conditions on our assistance to Egypt is the wrong approach,” Shapiro said, adding, “now is not the time to add further uncertainty to the region or disrupt our relationship with Egypt.”

Shapiro made his remarks during a talk at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy where his prime message was that, despite cutbacks in the U.S. foreign assistance budget, Washington would continue to provide aid to Israel. In fact, he said, foreign military funds scheduled for Israel in fiscal 2012 will top $3 billion, the highest in history for a single year

There are multiple arguments against cutting aid. One is that Egypt needs the aid badly now (actually this is especially the G8 and international financial institutions' multilateral aid) and that postponing delivery will create a risk of the Egyptian economy collapsing or more unrest. But imposing conditions on bilateral aid is quite different from multilateral aid, which will be handled separately from US aid — and multilaterally. In fact, one decent idea for aid to Egypt is that rather than have the US take the lead (with all the concomitant problems that causes in Egyptian and American domestic politics) is to have the US participate in a contact group for Egypt's economy recovery that would be headed by a non-US national and bring in major donor countries and help coordinate their policies (and in my opinion, the first condition this contact group should impose is that it will not deal with Egypt's awful current Minister of State of International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, one of the rare Mubarak-era holdovers in the transition cabinet.)

Another argument is that others will fill the US vacuum. The problem here is that the Gulf states already are, but in the long term will they really commit to the same level of aid? And will another power that could do the same, such as China, really interested in doing so? As for the Gulf states, they may have money, but they have an unreliable track record and do not bring the same level of strategic leverage as Western aid. Egypt's real choice is not between the US and another major power, it is between being a closed, failing state or one that is open to the world, improves the quality of life of its citizens and carves out for itself a regional role independently of its alliances, by keeping good ties with the West as well as other actors. Being a US client state has not worked out that well for Egypt, but neither would being a state that defines itself in opposition to the US, as Iran often does.

A third argument I often hear is that the US (and others) have to deal with the cards they were dealt, that the SCAF generals are something you have to work with and you have to be patient with the fact that they are difficult, irrational, and inflexible. I disagree with this because I don't think the West, or anyone else for that matter, should return to the same dynamics as under the Mubarak era. Then, there was reluctance to upset Mubarak and a feeling that arguing with him was a lost battle. The SCAF is playing the same obtuse game of stubbornness. But the rules of the game should not be the same, and they should realize there is a price to be paid. The condition for aid has to be a return to civilian rule — anything else just encourages them to stay in power longer. I do not believe the West, or anyone else, has a responsibility for Egypt's welfare — the justification for aid now even though the conditions are not appropriate. It only has the same responsibility it had before: to deal with a government that can deliver an improvement, not completely unaccountable ones.

I am also surprised that the official quoted above says conditionality is "the wrong approach" to Egypt. Hillary Clinton, giving at the National Democratic Institute's keynote address on November 7, said the following about how the Obama administration's commitment to helping Middle Eastern state make a transition to democracy:

We begin by rejecting the false choice between progress and stability. For years, dictators told their people they had to accept the autocrats they knew to avoid the extremists they feared. And too often, we accepted that narrative ourselves. Now, America did push for reform, but often not hard enough or publicly enough. And today, we recognize that the real choice is between reform and unrest.

. . .

The truth is that the greatest single source of instability in today’s Middle East is not the demand for change. It is the refusal to change. That is certainly true in Syria, where a crackdown on small, peaceful protests drove thousands into the streets and thousands more over the borders. It is true in Yemen, where President Saleh has reneged repeatedly on his promises to transition to democracy and suppressed his people’s rights and freedoms. And it is true in Egypt. If—over time—the most powerful political force in Egypt remains a roomful of unelected officials, they will have planted the seeds for future unrest, and Egyptians will have missed a historic opportunity.

This appears pretty unambiguously to be directed at SCAF and, coming from such a high-level source, denotes not only concern about the SCAF's handling of the transition but also frustration — and a hint that the US will not continue to be so forgiving in its public statements, which have been few and far between thus far and relatively subdued in the case of the Maspero massacre, for instance. So what gives? Why put out that message and then another one that suggests the "private" pressure method of the late Mubarak era (fruitless then, fruitless now?) is the approach being used? I suspect there is some debate about this within the administration, notably between the NSC, State and Pentagon — as there naturally should be. The Pentagon people, in particular, but also many State Dept. veterans will be reluctant to jeopardize the relationship with SCAF.

This is particularly the case if you consider that, in a few months, solid performance by the Muslim Brothers in election might have returned a parliament (and perhaps a government, although that is less likely) that includes Islamists. In Congress, there is already talk of imposing an end to aid to any Egyptian government that includes Islamist ministers (or at least MB ones that support Hamas), based on the model that would trigger an end to US aid to the Palestinian Authority if a national unity government includes ministers from Hamas. It's a pretty silly line to take — but there you are, that's Congress. In its long-term planning, US officials must be looking at Egypt and thinking: if the MB reach power through elections, how do we keep our privileged relationship with the military and encourage it as a bulwark against a radical change of Egyptian foreign policy?

Going back to Clinton's remarks about Egypt missing an opportunity — it already is starting to miss it, and the SCAF is chiefly responsible for this. You can wait things out and hope for a denouement, but chances are in a few months (say once the elections are over) it will be too late, especially if the choice becomes between the generals in SCAF and the Islamists in parliament. If you are going to take a principled stance, then do it now, in favor of a rapid transition to a civilian government.

US aid and diplomacy budget cut, except...

In the US, both the House of Representatives and the Senate are working on bills that would make deep cuts to the US foreign aid budget. These cuts will undermine the Obama administration’s policy of relying more on such aid as a completement to US power, reduce the ability to open consulates and finance international organizations, and make any idea of a “Marshall Plan” for the post-uprisings Arab world completely moot. But of course there is an exception:

The Republicans also attach conditions on aid to Pakistan, Egypt and the Palestinians, suspending the latter entirely if the Palestinians succeed in winning recognition of statehood at the United Nations. However, one of the largest portions of foreign aid — more than $3 billion for Israel — is left untouched in both the House and Senate versions, showing that, even in times of austerity, some spending is inviolable.

Can't say I'm surprised that Israel, a relatively wealthy country, will remain untouched while more worthy humanitarian aid will be slashed.

With regard to the balance between diplomatic and defense budgets, I have just started reading the provocative new book by Stephen Glain, State vs. Defense, which chronices the rise of militarism in the US and resultant paltry spending on diplomacy. So far, it really looks good.

The old Egypt-US aid fandango

Jaroslav Trofimov of the WSJ has a piece highlighting linguering opposition to USAID funding of NGOs and recognition of the democracy promotion outfits NDI and IRI in Egypt:

CAIRO—A U.S. plan to fund the democratic transition in Egypt has led to a confrontation with the country's new rulers, who are suspicious of American aims and what they see as political interference in the aftermath of President Hosni Mubarak's downfall.

Senior Egyptian officials have warned nongovernment organizations that taking U.S. funding would damage the country's security. The Egyptian government has also complained directly to the U.S.

"I am not sure at this stage we still need somebody to tell us what is or is not good for us—or worse, to force it on us," Fayza Aboul Naga, who has been Egypt's minister for planning and international cooperation since before the revolution, told The Wall Street Journal.

Ah, that old chestnut. Why not make it more simple and just cut off all economic and military aid altogether? A lot of people in DC think that would be rather weird — backing an autocratic Mubarak regime but not its successor. But these things should not be thought of in terms of Egypt, they should be thought of in terms of the US. Money could be better spend at home, and aid to Egypt and Israel has for decades used to a large extent to maintain autocratic regime (the one in Egypt and the one that rules the Occupied Territories.) Cut them both off and let's stop listening to their complaints. 

Of course, that's not the way these things work out. It looks like we're set for more passive-aggressive drama as the US goes ahead with disbursing the aid anyway and the Egyptian government whines about it. At least it's better than accepting restrictions on some aid distribution the way the Bush administration did for years

And one more thing: why does Fayza Aboul Naga, who is widely seen within the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a loose cannon, still have a job?

Foreign Aid for Scoundrels

Foreign Aid for Scoundrels by William Easterly | The New York Review of Books:

The international aid system has a dirty secret. Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, the nations and organizations that donate and distribute aid do not care much about democracy and they still actively support dictators. The conventional narrative is that donors supported dictators only during the cold war and ever since have promoted democracy. This is wrong.

. . .

In any case, dictators have received a remarkably constant share—around a third—of international aid expenditures since 1972. The proportion of aid received by democracies has remained stuck at about one fifth (the rest are in a purgatory called “Partly Free” by Freedom House). As for US foreign aid, despite all the brave pronouncements such as the ones I’ve quoted, more than half the aid budget still went to dictators during the most recent five years for which figures are available (2004–2008).

And there are still modern-day counterparts to Mobutu and Bokassa. Paul Biya, the dictator of Cameroon, is marking his twenty-eighth year in power in 2010 by receiving the latest in a never-ending series of loans from the International Monetary Fund with imaginative labels like “Poverty Reduction Growth Facilities.” Biya, whose government also enjoys ample oil revenues, has received a total of $35 billion in foreign aid during his reign. There’s been neither poverty reduction nor growth in his country: the average Cameroonian is poorer today than when Biya took power in 1982.

In February 2008, Biya’s security forces killed one hundred people during a demonstration against food price increases and also against a constitutional amendment that will extend his rule to 2018. Many of the victims were “apparently shot in the head at point-blank range.” The IMF justification for the newest loan in June 2009 noted laconically that these “social tensions” have not recurred and “the political situation is stable.”