U.S. aid to Egypt stalled
By Anne Gearan and Michael Birnbaum, Washington Post, September 17, 2012
Anti-American protests that started in Cairo and spread across the Muslim world have stalled negotiations to provide crucial U.S. economic assistance to Egypt, U.S. officials said Monday.
The violent demonstrations sparked by an anti-Islam video, and Egypt’s initially clumsy response, have temporarily halted talks about a proposed $1 billion in debt relief and how to speed millions in other aid to Egypt, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
No new aid is likely to be approved for Egypt until after the U.S. presidential election, and talks aimed at breaking a logjam on spending funds already approved are on hold, the officials said. Several U.S. officials said that the delays are expected to be temporary and that there is no major reevaluation of U.S. aid to Egypt.
“Folks are going to wait and see how things materialize both with the protests and on Capitol Hill,” a congressional aide said.
The roughly $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Egypt represents crucial economic assistance to a nation the United States has long considered an essential Arab partner—despite recent concerns about the new government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition to that assistance, President Obama has proposed $1 billion in debt relief for Egypt, which owes Washington about $3 billion.
In the aftermath of the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year, Congress attached conditions to U.S. aid, including a requirement that the State Department certify that Egypt is abiding by its peace treaty with Israel. Now some lawmakers are talking about adding more conditions.
A senior congressional staffer suggested that the course of events in the next couple of weeks will determine the long-term fate of U.S. assistance to Egypt. Other U.S. officials cast the delay as a natural reaction to the violence and a test of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s resolve, but they stressed that the United States is unlikely to set stringent conditions on aid or debt relief.
Anti-American protests near the U.S. Embassy in Egypt stretched from Tuesday until Saturday last week, with many demonstrators calling for the U.S. ambassador to be tossed out of the country.
Just days before protests erupted outside the fortress-like embassy compound, American and Egyptian officials had been in the final stages of negotiating the details of assistance that could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
American assistance to Egypt had already been in some jeopardy as a result of the country’s crackdown on U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups in February. The prosecutions of some individuals are still being pursued, although the anti-American cabinet minister who pushed the issue left the government.
The concerns are heard on both sides. Near Tahrir Square—where protesters clashed violently with Egyptian security forces last week as they tried to fight their way to the nearby U.S. Embassy—few people seemed to regard American aid with enthusiasm.
“U.S. aid came to the old regime, and there were a lot of suspicions,” said Ahmed Imam, 38, who runs a shop that sells satellite dishes. “Nothing is for free. This has to be repaid somehow.”