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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

How Congress can help Egypt

From VOANews:
Even before Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's announcement that he will not seek reelection, U.S. senators were speaking of his departure from power as a given. Senators from both major political parties said Tuesday that U.S. aid to Egypt has been money well spent, and showed no inclination to alter or cut off that aid - at least for now.

Hours beforeMr. Mubarak's statement, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, said Egyptians have "moved beyond" their president. The Massachusetts Democrat said that declining to run for reelection should be but a first step for the Egyptian leader.

"To go even further - to move to put together a caretaker government over these next months in order to avoid violence and help transition Egypt to the future that its people want and deserve," he said.

For decades, Egypt has been one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, totaling more than $1.5 billion a year during the past decade.

Connecticut Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman says it is money well spent.

"It did support a government which, over the years, has been very instrumental in maintaining stability in the Middle East," said Lieberman. "The second thing is, a lot of the money goes to the Egyptian military. And I think even in this moment of crisis, we see that the military is playing a critically important role in unifying the country."

Lieberman says now is not the time to threaten Egyptians or their military with a cut-off of U.S. aid.

Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, agrees.

"I think it would be inappropriate to be having that discussion while the Egyptians themselves are attempting to formulate appropriate governance," said Lugar.

Fellow Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also says U.S. aid to Egypt has been constructive for both nations and the Middle East as a whole. But she hesitates when asked whether she would guarantee future American assistance to Egypt.

"I think it is premature to make that conclusion," said Collins. "For example, if somehow the Muslim Brotherhood gained control of the country, then clearly we would not be giving any aid to Egypt."
In fact, I just received a draft email from a pro-Israel PAC, meant to be sent to members of Congress, that makes a much better suggestion:

As we all know, Foreign aid should never be viewed as an entitlement. Rather, it is for the promotion of values, which are at the core of American and indeed all western civilization. Foreign aid should be awarded to encourage and protect the establishment of democratic institutions, the preservation of human rights, and the formulation of productive economic planning.

Unfortunately, Egypt though often characterized as a moderate Arab country, has evinced a pronounced hostility toward these American values. Egypt regularly undermines American policy goals. It is now clear that Egypt is suffering the consequences of its decades of repression and with an educational system and state media steeped in the policies of racism and hate, will likely have a government takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, the founder of the Islamic Terrorism movement.

Moreover, despite having received about $60 billion in foreign aid since 1979, most Egyptians are destitute. The grinding poverty has been exacerbated by poor economic planning, government corruption, and an affinity for massive military expenditures.

Given its lack of cooperation with America, its persecution of religious minorities, lack of human rights, and anti-western state sponsored media we question whether Egypt deserves any material amount of foreign aid. Our concern is elevated by the fact that the aid is used primarily to continue building a massive Egyptian war machine. We are arming to the teeth a totalitarian government in an unsteady region of the world. There is only one use for this kind of arms buildup. We fear it would be used against the only democratic country in the region, our chief ally, Israel or against America should the government change hands.

In discussing this position with a number of Congressional offices, we have found some concern about resulting instability of the Egyptian government that cutting aid might cause. We are thus proposing that members of Congress look to change the nature of the aid to Egypt from military credits to economic and social credits. This is a win for America, a win for American allies in the area, and a win for Egypt. The massive military buildup in Egypt is destabilizing. With the acknowledged precarious nature of Egypt's government and the ever-present danger of its growing fundamentalist movement, it is far more in America's interest to attend to the political, social, and economic needs of the Egyptian people so our country can help create a less desperate situation.

The economic impact to America is neutral, since the money comes in the form of credits to buy US goods. It would be better to let the Egyptian people buy our cars, our computers, our construction equipment, and other American goods. This policy would encourage peace and a more stable Egypt. It would also produce demand for American products beyond the scope of foreign aid.
Makes sense to me.