Image via WikipediaI have refrained from commenting on the US-Egyptian relationship breakdown which accelerated with the crackdown by Egypt on NGOs (only two were direct US NGOs) since, frankly, I thought it would blow-over. Too much money involved, you see. Plus, I have never been comfortable with either NDI or their Republican counterpart, IRI. Although they both provide open-door training for any existing or nascent political organization, many governments resent what they consider interference with internal politics. This is particularly true for governments that are not particularly interested in teaching people how to organize – like Russia and Ukraine. Also, I happen to know that in some countries both NDI and IRI tend to provide more support to the more liberal organizations over the ones in power. This is a result of the nature of the situation and not necessarily a deliberate policy, but it is rarely viewed like that by the ones in power. Nevertheless, they were not the only ones to be closed down and had their staffs arrested by the Egyptian police. Anyone seen as voicing an opinion against SCAF or receiving grants from foreign countries was targeted.
It is time to end the charade. First, we know that the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Aboul Naga, has been and remains aggressively opposed to foreign aid – particularly American foreign aid. She is against any type of NGO that does not support her opinions and party line. The positions taken by these sorts have always been to characterize groups seen as challenging the government as promoting the overthrow of the state. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, a country doesn’t need to stay where it is not wanted. If a beneficiary decides that the relationship is not important enough to maintain, it is not in the interests of the US (or anyone else, for that matter) to insist otherwise.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which controls Egypt has no intention of fulfilling the hopes of those in Tahrir Square. They are genetically wired to prevent the type of freedom and democracy that thousands rallied for last year. As I have said in previous posts, the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring did not produce regime change. It removed one man from power and only when the military felt it was necessary.
In payment for the peace treaty with Israel, the US gives Egypt $1.3 billion in military assistance alone. Take it away and use it elsewhere. The choices are pretty extensive – including Tunisia, Morocco and a good deal of sub-Sahara. More than 70% of the Egyptian people don’t want any American aid largely because of the strings attached, like keeping Camp David peace treaty intact. But they are not going to war with Israel again – largely because 1) the military can’t afford it and 2) the military knows it would lose. The US should not even try to change the direction of a cratered relationship which is getting worse by the day. The US needs to get its people out and speak against the policies of the government against their indigenous NGOs; but it need not spend billions in assistance to buy friendship, especially when that friendship is not reciprocated.
Egypt no longer holds a leadership position for Arabs and Muslims in the region. That has fallen to Qatar and Turkey – both of which have strong economies, don’t need foreign aid and have shown the type of leadership that can only be dreamt of in Cairo.