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«American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions By Yuval Levin Aid in U.S. policy American aid to the Middle East is a tragedy of good ...»

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Nasser relied on the Soviets to an ever-greater extent, and the U.S. government, particularly under President Lyndon Johnson, became increasingly dissatisfied with Egypt’s role in conflicts in the Congo and Cyprus, and with Egyptian criticism of America’s involvement in Vietnam. Only the fear that an economic collapse would turn Egypt toward communism kept any aid flowing at all. Nevertheless, in 1967, Nasser publicly rejected U.S. economic aid and provoked the Six Day War. Aid was not restored until 1974, after Nasser’s death and the next (Yom Kippur) war.

Following that war, when Egyptian President Sadat signaled his interest in improving relations with the United States by expelling Soviet advisers, the Nixon and Ford Administrations responded by pledging aid to Egypt roughly equivalent to the economic (though not military) aid provided to Israel (in that year $700 million).11 This parity established the principle that aid to Egypt is linked to aid to Israel. The Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement of 1979 more or less formalized this parity.

The “Special International Security Assistance Act” of 1979 began the current age of American aid to Egypt, authorizing $4.8 billion to support the Camp David peace accord.

Egypt’s package consisted of $300 million in economic aid and $1.5 billion in military aid. It has since received, on average, just over $2.6 billion in total American aid annually – roughly a thousand-fold increase in aid in 25 years.12 Ruttan, United States Development Assistance Policy, 496.


American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 6 Officially, however, the U.S. government’s generosity is not blind. American aid to Egypt, unlike aid to Israel, is required by legislation to be aimed at specific projects.

According to USAID, approximately 25 percent of the economic assistance program is to be earmarked for public sector reforms, and another 25 percent funds the commodity import program, which essentially facilitates Egyptian imports of American goods. The remaining half of the program is project assistance allocated, at least officially, for specific infrastructure and development projects.13 Of course the Egyptians do not always adhere to these allocation requirements (and money is fungible, which means U.S. dollars funding these projects free the government to spend its funds on other things).

Nonetheless, there is a far greater measure of restriction on Egypt’s use of American money than on Israel’s. The purpose of these restrictions is supposed to ensure that the money goes to accomplish things that the U.S. wants accomplished.

Military aid has been a component of American assistance to Egypt since 1978. Military assistance began as a series of relatively small grants ($200,000 in 1978)14 but under the Reagan Administration grew to nearly $1 billion in combined loans and grants (at first 70 percent loans and 30 percent grants).15 Since fiscal year 1985, all military aid to Egypt has taken the form of grants (the same has been the case for all military aid to Israel since the same year) and the amounts have generally hovered around $1.2 billion, mostly used to purchase American military equipment. These funds have allowed the Egyptians to modernize and increase the effectiveness of their fighting force.

The Purpose of Aid to Egypt

What is in it for America? What important role does the U.S. expect Egypt to play in the peace process and the new Middle East? While the United States, for strategic as well as domestic political reasons, has sought to strengthen Israel, it has sought mostly to restrain Egypt, to keep the Egyptians out of the way of American policies and to prevent the rise of extreme elements. In the immediate wake of the Camp David Accords, Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary of State in the Carter administration, told members of the

House Appropriations Committee:

Certainly, bringing about a more positive pro-American policy in Cairo is a major goal of the funding we are requesting, it is in the interest of the United States to be supportive of Egypt, and in return to get its support in Arab politics.16 United States Agency for International Development, American Assistance to Egypt: A Briefing Book (Washington: United States Government Printing Office, 2000), 3.

Ruttan, United States Development Assistance Policy, 497.

Many of these loans, however, can now be considered grants since the United States forgave nearly $7 billion in Egyptian debt as a reward for Egypt’s participation in the Gulf War.

House Committee on Appropriations Middle East Emergency Package Funding, May 8, 1979, 96th Cong., 2nd sess., 1979, 779-781.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 7

The Results of Aid to Egypt

From the start, the U.S. has gotten it wrong. Financial incentives have proved insufficient to compel the Egyptian government to run against the grain of Egypt’s anti-Western domestic identity and geopolitical outlook. It is true that Egypt has not made war since Israel gave up the entire Sinai Peninsula following the Camp David Accords. But neither has Egypt been a friendly or pro-American force in Arab politics and in the Middle East.

For one thing, Egypt’s peace with Israel has been not only cold, but downright hostile.

For instance, the Egyptian government allows and at times encourages virulent antiAmerican, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic propaganda in the nation’s government controlled press. The government daily paper Al-Akbar stated in an April, 2000 editorial that “Jews should not be trusted because they are a nation of vagabonds filled with hatred toward the entire world.”17 One writer in Egypt’s most highly regarded newspaper, the governmentaffiliated Al-Aharam, asked rhetorically: “What benefit will they [the Jews] derive from the dominion they have achieved in this world, once they leave it? How will they benefit from their riches when they reach absolute poverty [in Hell]? Who will rescue them?

There is no America there, and if America were there, it would not be able to help them;

rather, it would share their fate, which it also deserves.”18 The government-affiliated AlGumhuriya daily published an article which argued:

Zionist propaganda continues, even today, to raise the issue of the Nazi crematoriums for Jews, although the historical evidence, revealed by renowned German, British, and French historians, proved that claims that such crematoriums existed in the Nazi detention camps are jokes…. They were invented and used by the Zionist movement…to terrify the European countries during WWII so that the Jews would flee from Europe to Palestine, because the Zionist movement realized that the Jews ignored its call to immigrate to Palestine.19 The most popular Egyptian film of the past few years described the story of a man who has discovered an Israeli plot to poison Egypt’s drinking water, and who sets out to turn the plot against the Israelis themselves. The film ends with a scene depicting Hassidic Jews in full garb keeling over as they drink their poisoned water. The bounds of good taste prevent me from reviewing many other examples of the rhetoric of the government controlled (and often state-sponsored) Egyptian media.

Along with this sort of incitement and propaganda, the Egyptians have also taken direct action to prevent the peace with Israel from reaching the depth envisioned by its framers.

Indeed, Egypt has often been at the head of Arab diplomatic attacks against the Israelis – and at one point in 1995 it even proposed a resolution to the Arab League to reinstate the Al-Akhbar (Cairo), 12 April 2000.

Mustafa Mahmoud, “Some Words for Our Cousins,” Al Aharam (Cairo), 1 April 2000.

Al-Gumhuria (Cairo), 4 March 2000.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 8 economic embargo against Israel.20 Asked about this “cold peace” by Barry Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Egyptian President Mubarak said: “Believe me, it will stay cold and it will stay cold for a very long time to come.”21 More seriously, Egypt has also engaged in diplomatic maneuvers quite directly opposed to American interests in the region. It has for instance opposed American efforts, including ones with Jordanian support, to unseat Saddam Hussein in Iraq.22 Egypt has also opposed nearly all UN resolutions aimed at eliminating Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.23 Egypt even supported a failed effort by the UAE to lift the UN sanctions on Iraq. As recently as August of 2000, Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa said that “the issue of Iraq has to be revisited...maintaining these sanctions is unacceptable to the Arab world.”24 It is, of course, impossible to say whether these American efforts would have met with more success were it not for Egyptian interference, but the interference certainly demonstrates Egypt’s willingness to stand firmly in the way of American policy.

The Egyptians have also sabotaged the Arab-Israeli peace process. Egypt did not take kindly to Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan, certainly the most beneficial and least troublesome element of the peace process. In a speech to the Second Middle East Economic Summit in 1995, Egyptian Foreign Minister Moussa interrupted and insulted Jordan’s King Hussein saying: “Your majesty…our interaction with Israel must be undertaken with the greatest reason, confidence and wisdom, not by showing off or rushing in” – implying that the king was a reckless show off.25 Again and again, the Egyptians took steps behind the scenes to make Hussein’s efforts to normalize relations with Israel more difficult.

The Egyptians also registered strong opposition to the Turkish-Israeli Military Accord of 1996, and in its wake implicitly threatened that they might form an alliance with Syria in response – thus suggesting, in the words of one analyst, that “rather than champion or at least support a pro-Western alliance, Cairo would apparently prefer closer ties with a nation that is on the State Department’s list of supporters of terrorism.”26 Another useful measure of Egypt’s behavior as a client state and recipient of American aid is its willingness to back the United States in international forums. Here, too, we find that Egypt often stands in opposition to American wishes and interests. At the United House Committee on International Relations, A Hearing Regarding American Policy Toward Egypt, April 10, 1997, 106th Cong., 1st sess., 1997, 6.

Ibid., 12.

For an extensive discussion of this episode in the mid 1990s, see Paul Remington “Egypt’s (Very Unhelpful) Foreign Policy,” IASPS Research Papers in Strategy 3, The Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies (May 1997), 4-6.

Harvey Morris, “Clinton Seeks to Ease Egyptian Tension,” Financial Times, 29 August 2000.

Dina Ezzat, “A War of Words,” Al Ahram (Cairo), 9 August 2000.

Syrian Arab Republic Radio Network, October 29, 1995, cited in Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), October 30, 1995.

Remington, “Egypt’s (Very Unhelpful) Foreign Policy,” 10.

American Aid to the Middle East: A Tragedy of Good Intentions Page 9 Nations in the past several years, Egypt has cast its ballot against the United States 61 percent of the time.27 The Egyptians have also openly opposed and violated the American embargo against Libya, and have opened the way for military, economic and political relations with the Kadhafi regime. In 1997, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stated on the Senate floor that these improving relations reflected “Egypt’s shift from a partner in peace to an advocate for a terrorist state armed with chemical weapons - a capability which represents a direct threat to U.S. interests.”28 McConnell even proposed cutting American aid in response, but the Clinton Administration blocked his attempt to do so.

Even more alarming than this is Egypt’s relationship with North Korea in the development of missile technology, in direct violation of U.S. laws governing foreign aid.

A CIA report to Congress in 1999 stated that: “During the first half of 1998, Egypt continued to obtain ballistic-missile components and associated equipment from North Korea. This activity is part of a long-running program of ballistic missile cooperation between these two countries.”29 An Air Force National Intelligence Center report from October of 1999 states plainly that Cairo “is secretly cooperating with Pyongyang in building Scud missiles.”30 These reports do not state the obvious: Egypt’s cooperation consists mostly of money it pays to North Korea – money that Egypt can spend only because the U.S. itself provides the Egyptians with funds.

North Korea is designated a “terrorist state” under section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.31 That same law states plainly: “The President shall withhold assistance under this act to the government of any country that provides assistance to the government of any other country for which the secretary of state has made determination under section 620A.”32 A later law also prohibits “the sale or license of export of defense articles or defense services to any country determined by the president, in a fiscal year, to be not cooperating with U.S. Anti-Terrorism efforts.”33 In other words, U.S. law clearly requires the United States to withhold all economic and military aid from Egypt, and even to stop exporting military equipment to Egypt. Hence aid to Egypt is not only ineffective, but literally illegal. And yet it continues, because of Brian Johnson, Does Foreign Aid Serve U.S. Interests? Not at the United Nations (Washington: The Heritage Foundation, 1996), 4. In fact, an analysis of votes at the United Nations demonstrates that 68 percent of recipients of American aid voted against the U.S. in the United Nations most of the time over the past decade.

“Senator Proposes Cutting U.S. Aid to Egypt,” Agence France Presse, 19 June 1997.

“Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions: 1 January through 30 June 1999,” [http://www.odci.gov/cia/publications/bian/bian_feb_2000.html#egypt], November 2000. The Director of Central Intelligence in accordance with Section 721 of the FY 1997 Intelligence Authorization submitted this to Congress.

William Gertz, “Korea Continues to Develop Missiles; Sells Technology to Rogue Nations,” Washington Times, 28 October 1999.

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