Will Egypt's crackdown end U.S. gravy train?
President Obama told Egypt's military ruler Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi that NGO's should be able to operate freely in Egypt
January 27th, 2012
05:53 PM ET

Will Egypt's crackdown end U.S. gravy train?

By Elise Labott

For more than 30 years the United States and Egypt had a pact: America would stuff Egyptian coffers with military aid to ensure Egypt upheld its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

But now this bargain is jeopardy. Even with former President Hosni Mubarak out of power and on trial, the military leadership continues to rule with a seemingly iron fist and the Muslim Brotherhood has just taken power in a landslide election.

The Obama administration hopes by helping rebuild Egypt's economy, on the verge of collapse, it will endear itself to the new government. Delegations of top U.S. officials have visited Cairo in recent months for meetings with Brotherhood officials to pledge support and show desire to forge a new partnership.

But after the Arab Spring, there is no free lunch. The administration has so far resisted suggestions on Capitol Hill about imposing conditions on U.S. aid to Egypt. But new conditions imposed by Congress dictate that future aid will depend on Egypt's ruling military council showing it is taking tangible steps toward democracy.

The recent tug of war between Washington and Egypt's rulers over the activities of U.S.-funded democracy groups, including the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, is raising questions about whether it's time to rethink how the United States gives aid to Egypt going forward.

At stake is $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid and some $250 million more in economic assistance for 2012.

Last month, Egyptian authorities raided the offices of these nongovernmental organizations, confiscating cash, computers, documents and other property, accusing them of using foreign funds to support unrest in Egypt. The offices were sealed and the groups are currently not allowed to operate.

Egypt is barring at least six Americans and several other nationals from leaving the country, including IRI's Egypt office director, Sam LaHood, son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, until an investigation into the group's funding and registration status is complete.

When President Obama called Egypt's top military official, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, last week to hail the seating of Egypt's democratically elected parliament, the White House said he made clear "that nongovernmental organizations should be able to operate freely."

A day later LaHood was stopped at Cairo's airport.

Already Congress is making threats about the aid.

Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), IRI's chairman, issued a statement Thursday expressing "outrage" at the action and warned the crackdown on the groups "could set back the longstanding partnership between the United States and Egypt."

Senior officials say they are already feeling the heat, which is why the administration isn't pulling any punches in public by saying Egypt's actions going forward could tie their hands.

Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, who is responsible for human rights issues, was in Cairo speaking with Egypt's military rulers about the importance of the issue. Speaking to reporters, he warned "It is the prerogative of Congress to say that our future military aid is going to be conditioned on a democratic transition.

"Obviously any action that creates tension with our government makes the whole [aid] package more difficult," Posner said.

The United States is in a difficult spot - on one hand wanting to protect American citizens and the important work these groups do to promote democracy in Egypt. On the other hand, officials are loath to interfere with Egypt's judicial system, as flawed as the Obama administration finds it to be.

What's more, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has to certify that Egypt is taking moves toward a genuine transition to democracy before any of this year's funding is released.

Senior U.S. officials say the administration wants to resolve the issue before Egypt comes calling for the aid and Clinton is forced to make a certification.

But given the heavy hand of Egypt's military to date, officials point to a growing debate about whether the many U.S. assistance programs can go forward.

soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Beverelle

    I've said it before and I'll say it again. If you choose to go to a country in turmoil and things go bad for you, you brought it on yourself. What, no one saw any of this coming? Seriously?

    January 29, 2012 at 12:29 am | Reply
  2. coriolana

    let egypt sink itself for the time being. when they realise that they need tourism to survive, they'll be back.

    January 28, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  3. tony

    The 1967 joint Israeli and A merican false flag attempt involving the Uss Liberty and unmarked Israeli aiir craft and naval forces gun boats failed. The order to launch arcraft amed with special (nukes) in retaliation of what would have been evil Egypts sinking of an A merican electronics ship in international waters was aborted because the Liberty did not sink fast enough as to not be seen by our other so called enemy Russia. Mosad and CIA, Kissinger manipulating Alex and Dick. I can hear it now G damit where is my jew boy. Or was it Johnson Macmara, Hegue? It does not matter does it?

    January 28, 2012 at 2:27 am | Reply
  4. tony

    Egypt has some hidden treaures too. I don't know it just seems like history should be available for everyonebut it isn't. I think it was George Orwell that said: He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.

    January 28, 2012 at 2:07 am | Reply
  5. shrinkDave

    It was cheaper to pay off the Egyptians than chance the closing of the Suez Canal and cause major disruptions of oil transport. The Israeil-Egypt Peace Treaty guaranteed smooth operation of the canal. Forget ideology, forget morality, forget democracy: it's the oil stupid.

    January 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm | Reply
  6. Hypocricy alive and well

    30 years of aide to a government that crushed its people and pushed them into poverty and humiliation. Now the government has another carrot to run after for democracy as the US sees it? The sleeping giant Egypt is awakening? Why would Egypt need military aide to keep peace with Israel anyway? Why not economic aide for the people but maybe this would makje them more difficult to control. Master job done by the US and Israel the last 30 years but now...

    January 27, 2012 at 8:44 pm | Reply
  7. mipolitic

    well i said it before why did the state department allow these americans into such a mess and if they were already there the the usa should have got them out long ago. stupid,, well pay the money quickly and get these people out before this goes south. the next thing that could happen is the military says they do not know where they are. this could become huge if these usa people go missing. stupid.

    January 27, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  8. A-Pissin'-on-the-dead-kinda-guy

    End of gravy train? Without a compliant puppet regime in place – bet on it.

    January 27, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Reply
    • ME

      Not sure if you believe there was a choice the past 30 years other than one between "Compliant Puppet Regime" and "Bunch of Genocidal Maniacs that try to exterminate their neighbors every decade or so".

      January 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
      • A-Pissin'-on-the-dead-kinda-guy

        Am looking forward to seeing a people finally in control of their destiny. Beholden to no one.

        January 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
      • Aaron Lindsey come find me

        well if they had control of their own fovernment maybe this problem woiuldn't be happening right now and if they did attackj isreal every couple years let them thats their decision as a country and they ahve every right to do so. maybe if we had let them fight it out then we could have peace now. instead of delaying the problem and now having tions and tons of shit piling on top of itself all over the world and this egyptian revolution being another problem.

        January 28, 2012 at 10:53 pm |
    • Portland tony

      As long as they still allow tourists to wear bikinis on their beaches, I'm all for the self determination of the Egyptian people.

      January 28, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
    • Iranacockuptheirass

      Yes....may 4000 gravy covered camel cocks spew there gravy on a train headed up your azz's

      January 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Iranacockuptheirass

      Yes....may 4000 gravy covered camel cocks spew there gravy on a train headed up your ass's

      January 28, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply

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