The Obama administration is planning to accelerate the pace of US aid to Egypt, a senior State Department official said today.
Pro-democracy activists and analysts recently called for US aid to Egypt to be cut or deferred, following government raids on US-based, government-funded non-governmental groups, but the administration is proposing an acceleration of assistance, apparently without conditionality.
The US wants to ensure “more immediate benefits” emerge from Egypt’s transition, said Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats.
“Whether it’s an increase or whether it’s reprioritizing existing assistance, we’re still working this out,” he told Reuters, during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s unfortunate the juxtaposition, that our budgetary constraints comes at the same time that you have this enormously hopeful series of changes in the region,” he said.
He did not specify whether political conditions would be attached to the assistance package.
Legislators on Capitol Hill and pro-democracy advocates have called for cuts or postponements in US aid after Egyptian security forces raided the offices of pro-democracy NGOs on December 29. The authorities seized computers, documents, and tens of thousands of dollars in cash from the premises of several Egyptian groups as well as the US-based National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and Freedom House.
It is expected that NGO staff – both Egyptians and US nationals – will be prosecuted and face trial as early as next month.
Observers believe the government is using the investigation to foment hostility towards liberal democratic groups. Rival political groups have also taken a populist, xenophobic stance, with the veteran Wafd party publishing a ‘blacklist’ of foreign-funded groups in its newspaper, while the Muslim Brotherhood has called for restrictions on foreign funding of civil society groups.
While recent developments had given cause for concern, Hormats conceded, he did not suggest that increased US aid would be used either to sanction repressive actions or as an incentive for good conduct.
“Democracy is not always a smooth or predictable process,” he said. “We have to understand that and not expect miracles. … We have to explain to the American people that patience is needed and support is needed.”
At a meeting in Washington last week, Egypt’s minister of industry and foreign trade said a new U.S.-Egyptian trade agreement must be free of any conditionality.
“We are not asking for this, but we are not objecting if the United States asks to open this. But any agreement should be purely economic … It should not be conditioned by things out of the economy, political or social or anything,” said Mahmoud Al-Said Eisa. “No change in policies, no change in anything other than to keep all things the same.”
After meeting with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood last week, Hormats described the group’s officials as “very pragmatic.”
“They understand, they’re the majority party now in the parliament. They are going to be the primary political party in Egypt. They need to deliver results,” he said.
“And their focus primarily is on small- and medium-enterprise” as a source of job creation, he said.
In the wake of the Arab Spring and in Egypt particularly, Hormats said, “you have a much more fluid situation, and we don’t know what the government’s going to look like.”
NDI and IRI are core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.