News / USA

US Reviewing Aid to Egypt

Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stand in a line as volunteers distribute juice ahead of iftar (breaking of fast) during the holy month of Ramadan, as they continue a sit-in around Rabaa Adawiya mosque, east of Cairo, July 17, 2013.
Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stand in a line as volunteers distribute juice ahead of iftar (breaking of fast) during the holy month of Ramadan, as they continue a sit-in around Rabaa Adawiya mosque, east of Cairo, July 17, 2013.
Egypt’s interim president has sworn in a new Cabinet, but not one of its 34 members is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood - the movement that came to power with last year’s election of Mohamed Morsi as president.

On July 3, the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected leader after millions of Egyptians took to the streets for four days, protesting the way he ran the country.

Mirette Mabrouk, with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, said Morsi and his government were simply incompetent.

“The Brotherhood made just about every mistake in the book, really. They proved enormously inept at running the country, and they proved enormously inept at running the country at a very difficult stage in its time,” said Mabrouk. “As a result, the president is out and the Brotherhood are - after 80 years of having been in opposition and having been, it must be said, having been persecuted by the regime, all of a sudden they had power - they have been unable to hold onto it.”

The Muslim Brotherhood considers the current military backed government to be illegitimate.

Review of Aid after Miltary Action

The Obama administration is reviewing U.S. aid to Egypt after the military action. A U.S. law stipulates the cutoff of aid to “any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup.” But U.S. officials have been hesitant to apply the “coup” label to what happened in Egypt.

Each year, Washington provides $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt. Some U.S. lawmakers are pressing to end that aid.

But former U.S. State Department Middle East expert Aaron David Miller said that is a bad idea.

“After all, we supplied this assistance for 30 years - three decades - to a regime that made no pretense of being democratic, a regime in which there were no elections, a regime in which there were no popular demonstrations of this magnitude. A regime, essentially, that wasn’t open in any way, shape or form, to a serious sharing of power,” said Miller. “And so, how by extension, could you now, at a time when Egypt maybe is in the process of democratization, where you’ve had elections, where you’ve had massive outpouring of the popular will - how can we suspend the aid now? It’s fundamentally illogical.”

U.S. Has Little Leverage Over Egypt

Many experts say the U.S. government has very little leverage over what is happening or will happen in Egypt.

Jeffrey Martini of the RAND Corporation said one reason is that U.S. economic aid to Egypt has been reduced over the years, in part due to the growth of Egypt’s economy.

“In the mid-1980s, the total aid flow to Egypt from the United States was equivalent to about 7 percent of Egypt’s economy - that would give you a lot of leverage,” said Martini. “Today, it’s about [zero-]point-seven percent - so a 10-fold drop as compared to the size of the Egyptian economy. So you don’t get much leverage when you are looking at aid flows of [zero-]point-seven percent the size of the Egyptian economy.”

Leverage or no leverage, the United States and other countries believe having a politically stable Egypt is essential for the Middle East.

“Other countries have depended on it [Egypt] culturally, they have depended on it in terms of labor, they have depended on it in terms of political leadership,” said Mabrouk. “Israel is dependent for a stable Egypt on its borders. A stable, prosperous, if you like, but certainly stable and healthy Egypt is absolutely vital to the Middle East. Otherwise, frankly, no one would care. If Egypt were irrelevant, then people would not be paying attention - people pay attention because Egypt is vital.”

Looking ahead, Mabrouk and others say the United States and other countries should stay on the sidelines and let the Egyptian political process take its course.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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