“U.S. officials say the Obama administration is preparing to approve the release of at least a portion of $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt despite concerns that Cairo is not complying with conditions to receive the assistance,” Associated Press reports:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton must soon determine if Egypt is meeting the criteria by supporting the country’s transition to democracy and upholding human rights. The State Department said Friday that could happen as early as the middle of next week.
But instead of certifying to Congress that Egypt’s military rulers are in compliance, officials said Clinton is likely to waive the criteria in the interest of national security, which would free up all of the aid at stake. Clinton could also grant a partial waiver that would allow the administration to release some of the aid and make the balance conditional on improvements in Egypt’s record.
U.S. lawmakers put a hold on the assistance in response to Egypt’s prosecution of American democracy activists on charges of illegal use of foreign funds and operating without registration. The U.S. Congress insisted that the State Department officially certify that Egypt is proceeding along a democratic trajectory before it will agree to release the aid.
“We want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank checks are over,” said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations.
While most of the American democracy officials have since left Egypt, the authorities insist that the prosecution will continue and Egyptian activists remain under threat. Democracy and human rights groups have called on the Obama administration to withhold the aid until the government demonstrates its commitment to democratic norms and rule of law.
“It is crucial that at this time, the United States draw a clear line about the actions that the Egyptian military must take if it wishes to continue receiving assistance in the way it has in the past,” said Human Rights Watch.
Within weeks Egypt risks missing payments on defense contracts, largely with American arms manufacturers, forcing Mrs. Clinton to decide the certification question now. “It’s coming up sooner than some people wanted,” one senior official said.
The certification process is not complete, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, but the administration remains eager to assist the transition process and engagement is a source of vital leverage.
“Our goal … is to satisfy the intent of the legislation while maintaining the strongest possible foundations for the U.S.-Egyptian relationship going forward, supporting the Egyptian people’s aspirations for democratic change and increased economic opportunity and promoting regional stability,” she told reporters.
U.S. assistance to Egypt’s military has “enabled us to have influence at a time when the Egyptian military had to decide whether it was going to fire on its own people or whether it was going to support change,” she said. “And it’s enabled us also to have influence at a time when the military is undergirding this transition until it can get to a place where we can have a hand-off to an elected government.’
Congress may be prepared to accept the national security waiver in order to maintain a degree of U.S. influence with Egyptian decision-makers, some observers believe.
U.S.-Egyptian relations have got over the “bump in the road” of the NGO crisis, said House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, during a visit to Cairo with a delegation of lawmakers.
But it seems that Egypt’s media didn’t get the memo, judging by the barrage of attacks on Anne Patterson, the U.S. ambassador to Cairo.
“The campaign against her was stepped up following her declaration…that the U.S. had channeled some $40 million to civil society organizations in Egypt with the aim of advancing democracy,” the Middle East Media Research Institute reports:
The Egyptian media has portrayed Patterson as solely serving U.S. interests in the region, such as Egyptian dependence on foreign aid at the expense of the Egyptian people and Israel’s security. One accusation against her is that she has ensured these interests by curbing the Islamic movements, as she allegedly did in Pakistan during her previous mission by being behind various political assassinations. Patterson has also been accused of intimidating the Egyptian media and aspiring to establish alternative media outlets.