REPORTING FROM WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration announced Friday that it intends to deliver all $1.3 billion in promised aid to Egypt’s military this year, despite calls from lawmakers and rights advocates to hold back money because of limits on political rights in the North African nation.
Congress requires the administration to certify, before providing aid, that Egypt has met U.S. requirements for following democratic principles and is meeting its obligations under a peace treaty with Israel. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Egypt was living up to the treaty and waived the democracy requirements, citing “America’s national security interests.”
The decision reflects the anguishing choice facing the administration, which is deeply unhappy with Egypt’s treatment of civil groups but wants badly to maintain its longstanding ties to Egypt’s powerful military.
“These decisions reflect America’s overarching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy,” Victoria Nuland, the chief State Department spokesman, said in a statement.
The State Department praised Egypt’s “free and fair” parliamentary elections over the winter and the transfer of legislative authority to the new People’s Assembly, and noted that a date has been set for the transitional military government to hand power to a yet-to-be-chosen civilian government. But it said that Egypt’s transition to democracy “is not yet complete," and “more work remains to protect universal rights and freedoms.”
The two chairman of the congressional appropriations subcommittees overseeing the aid, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas,) both expressed disappointment in the decision.
Human rights advocates in Congress could still try to limit the aid, though they likely would face resistance from other lawmakers who believe the United States should maintain strong ties with the Egyptian military. Israel has urged Washington to preserve the military ties.
Stephen McInerney, executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a human rights research and advocacy group, said the decision “sends the signal that we’re placing our support for Egypt’s transition to democracy beneath our support for Egypt’s military, in the way we had done during the [Hosni] Mubarak era.”
The United States and Egypt clashed recently over the autonomy of U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations that have been seeking to help Egyptian political and civil groups make a transition to democratic government.
Egypt charged several dozen U.S. and Egyptian citizens with breaking Egyptian laws by funding and working with Egyptian groups not registered with the government. Egyptian authorities allowed 15 of the 16 Americans to leave the country, though technically they still face charges. The other American chose to remain and face trial.
-- Paul Richter
Photo: Employees of several U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups sit inside the defendants' cage during their trial in Cairo on March 8. The case was continued to April 10. Credit: Associated Press.