Unconditional Love: U.S. Foreign Assistance to Egypt

Posted by Jeremy Ritter-Wiseman

Egypt's not doing so hot. 

Earlier in July, Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader in over half a century, was subjected to a military coup. Since then, the military has ruled as an authoritarian regime characterized by massacres of protestors, arrests of pro-Morsi supporters and a ban on Morsi's political party, the  Muslim Brotherhood. However, despite the military's volatile and condemnable behavior, one thing remains resolute: the U.S.'s seemingly unconditional $1.5 billion of aid, 85% of which is allocated to the military. 

There is a reason that the Obama administration has not yet labeled the events in Egypt as a military coup. Section 7008 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012 prohibits foreign assistance to a country whose head of government was deposed by a military coup or decree. If Morsi's ousting was to be labeled a military coup by the administration, all aid that falls under the parameters of Section 7008 would have to cease immediately. The administration cannot afford to do this for fear of losing its aid-based leverage.

Leverage is one of the advantages that comes with foreign assistance to Egypt. Aid can always be suspended or cut off to incentivize progress towards establishing democratic institutions and addressing humanitarian issues; however, this leverage has yet to be utilized despite threats to those two very things. From a severe crackdown on NGOs to a military coup and a massacre of civilians, suspending aid has been delayed repeatedly for more dire occasions. What develops is a boy-who-cried-wolf scenario: the repeated threats to suspend aid are losing credibility and, with it, the U.S.'s ability to influence developments in Egypt. 

Here lies the primary weakness in the administration's policy towards Egypt. Unconditional support of what is essentially an autocratic military dictator in General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has not, and will not, help  Egypt move towards consolidated democracy. The U.S. must progress towards incentivized aid and revert less to blind funding. The administration failed to procure political support for the Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund, which was perhaps the best chance of establishing incentivized aid this past fiscal year. Thus, the funding in Egypt is left largely up to congressional discretion. 

In 1978, the U.S. pledged annual aid to both Israel and Egypt as part of the peace treaty between the two historically warring nations. But it begs the question: are those same motives for aid still relevant? If the U.S. were to cut aid to Egypt, would the Egyptian government throw out the peace treaty with Israel and reignite a thirty-year old conflict? It seems unlikely, and therefore the foreign assistance to Egypt, if leverage remains unexploited, becomes both antiquated and impracticable. 

For the administration to take full advantage, military aid should be suspended immediately (with exception to operations in the Sinai Peninsula) and a message must be sent to the interim government that aid will be restored when the political roadmap established by the military is achieved. A new constitution and legitimate elections must precede further aid to Egypt in order to abide by the Consolidated Appropriations Act and to set the standard for countries enduring similar circumstances across the region. 

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