Kerry, in Egypt, Ties $250M in U.S. Aid to Little-Noticed Reform; 'Outrageous,' Says Congressman
(CNSNews.com) – Announcing the release of $250 million in U.S. aid to Egypt on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry called it “a good-faith effort to spur reform,” but developments there over the 10 months since his last visit to Cairo offer little cause for optimism.
Kerry said $190 million would be made available in budget support funds – the first portion of a $1 billion pledge President Obama made in May 2011 – and another $60 million would support “key engines of democratic change in Egypt, including Egypt’s entrepreneurs and its young people.”
Three weeks before the May 2012 election that brought Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohammed Morsi to power, Kerry visited Egypt in his then-capacity as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and afterwards declared himself hopeful about the prospects for working with a Brotherhood government.
But things have gone so badly since then that, in the past two months alone, six separate initiatives have been introduced on Capitol Hill aimed at prohibiting or limiting aid to Egypt.
One of the bills, introduced by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) on January 15, would prohibit any funds made available after FY 2013 to any federal department or agency from being used to provide assistance to Egypt.
Late Sunday Buchanan slammed Kerry’s announcement: “Releasing millions of hard-earned American dollars to a regime that supports Hamas and denigrates Israel is outrageous,” he told CNSNews.com.
“America is drowning in a sea of debt. We can no longer afford to buy our friends across the world. Egypt has proven unworthy of our tax dollars and until they do I am calling for the immediate suspension of U.S. aid to that country.”
After his May 2012 visit, Sen. Kerry in an interview with National Journal defended ongoing aid to Egypt as being in U.S. interests.
“If we suddenly cut it off, we’d be sending a horrendous message that basically says, ‘Screw you, we’re out of here.’ And they’ll turn around and say, ‘There’s no reason to even think about the United States. Let’s go work with Iran or whoever it’s going to be.”
Kerry expressed optimism about working with a Muslim Brotherhood administration, “not because I believe I can take to the bank everything they say – but because everything they say is better than what they could be saying.”
“They’re talking about pluralism, diversity, protecting minority rights, and understanding they can’t put an Islamic extreme regimen in place because it would be counter to a lot of Egypt’s culture,” he said.
Kerry added that there would need to be “a lot of coalition building, work on the constitution – and they’re going to have to do it fast.”
In the event, coalition building has been virtually non-existent, Morsi has been accused of ramming through a constitution with controversial Islamist elements, and Egyptian society is deeply divided.
‘Washington’s allies in Egypt’
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when visiting Egypt had to contend with allegations that the Obama administration favors the Muslim Brotherhood – and her successor faced the same challenge this past weekend.
As Kerry met with his Egyptian counterpart at the foreign ministry on Saturday evening, protestors holding a small but vocal demonstration outside chanted anti-U.S. and anti-Brotherhood slogans.
“The participants in the march claimed that the purpose of Kerry’s visit is to support the Muslim Brotherhood and interfere in the internal affairs of Egypt,” the Al-Masry al-Youm daily reported.
Inside, Kerry told reporters he wanted to make it clear “that we come here as friends for the Egyptian people, not for one government or one person or one party or ideology, but for the Egyptian people.”
He made a similar comment when meeting with business leaders earlier in the day, saying he was visiting “on behalf of President Obama, committed not to any party, not to any one person, not to any specific political point of view.”
Despite those assertions, two of Egypt’s most prominent opposition figures, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, refused to meet with Kerry during his visit.
A spokesman for Sabahi’s Popular Current movement said the U.S. was putting pressure on opposition groups “to support the Muslim Brotherhood, Washington’s allies in Egypt.”
Sabahi and ElBaradei are leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition comprising liberal, nationalist and leftist groups, which recently announced it will boycott legislative elections beginning on April 22, citing concerns of rigging and a lack of transparency.
(The last legislative election, just over two years ago, delivered 70 percent of the seats in the lower house of parliament, the People’s Assembly, to the Muslim Brotherhood and fellow Islamist Salafis, but it was dissolved by court order.)
Apart from Buchanan’s initiative, the following Egypt-related measures have been introduced in the U.S. Congress since mid-January:
--In the House, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) on January 25 introduced the Egypt Accountability and Democracy Promotion Act, which ties aid to Egypt to the advancement of political, economic, and religious freedom, and requires periodic certification relating to political reforms, the influence of foreign terrorist organizations, implementation of the Egypt-Israel peace agreement, and security in Sinai and along the Sinai-Gaza border.
--On February 27, Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) introduced a sense of Congress resolution saying the president should suspend the delivery of F-16 fighter aircraft, M1 tanks and other defense articles and services to Egypt.
--In the Senate, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) on January 31 introduced a bill conditioning the sale of F-16s, M1s and other defense items on proper security at U.S. diplomatic missions, Egypt-Israel peace agreement commitments and political reforms, including dialogue with the opposition.
--Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on January 31 introduced a bill prohibiting the U.S. government from allowing the sale, lease or transfer of those same defense products to Egypt.
--An earlier effort by Paul, an amendment to the debt limit bill to prevent the administration from transferring the fighter aircraft and army tanks to Egypt, failed in a 79–19 vote.
From Cairo, Kerry flew late Sunday to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the first of three Gulf state stops wrapping up his inaugural foreign trip as secretary of state. He is due to return to Washington on Wednesday.