FPI Bulletin: The Future of U.S. Assistance to Egypt

May 2, 2017

By FPI Policy Intern Kelsey Patterson

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee conducted a hearing to examine U.S. assistance to Egypt, which has totaled more than $30 billion over the past 20 years. The hearing featured testimony from Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations, Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski.

The Foreign Policy Initiative believes that the following quotes from the hearing will be useful to lawmakers and their staff as they consider further aid to Egypt. 

Egypt under President Sisi

“Unfortunately, neither good governance nor counter-terrorism has been the Egyptian military’s top priority in recent years. Its focus, and General Sisi’s, has been preserving its dominant position in Egypt’s government and economy. To that end, it has concentrated as much on persecuting political opponents, peaceful protestors and independent NGOs – the very people in the country most likely to despise jihadism – as it has on hunting down terrorists.” —Tom Malinowski

 “When Sisi took control in 2013, Egypt did not have a virulent insurgency, thousands dead in extrajudicial killings, tens of thousands of political prisoners, hundreds of enforced disappearances, hundreds killed in terrorists attacks annually including the recent suicide bombings targeting Christians, and a desperate economic situation. Egypt has all of those problems now.” —Michele Dunne

“The Middle East has changed, and Egypt’s role in the Middle East has changed. The Egypt of decades ago was the single most influential Arab country, whose position on every issue of significance in the region was of real importance to the United States…Today, Egypt has no role of significance when it comes to the conflict in Yemen, or in Iraq, or in Syria, nor frankly does it have much of a role in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians.” —Elliott Abrams

Refusal of Egyptian Military to Adapt to the Terrorist Threat

“Egypt’s approach to combating terrorism, which we are in fact supporting to the tune of $1.3 billion per year, is not succeeding.” —Elliott Abrams

“Egypt has used much of the military assistance to arm itself with heavy weapons (such as fixed-wing aircraft and tanks) for the sort of ground war it has not fought since 1973 and might not ever fight again, resisting persistent advice from U.S. officials to devote more assistance to training, lighter weapons, and higher technology.” —Michelle Dunne

“While our goals are above all to help it fight terrorism, the Egyptian military remains a force designed to conduct conventional war—against Israel. Major military exercises continue to presume Israel is the enemy…The Egyptian military is spending huge sums on enhancing that conventional capability…How do an anti-ballistic missile system and advanced combat jets really combat terrorist groups like Islamic State?” —Elliott Abrams

 “We should see Egypt more clearly for what it has become: a country that sucks up aid from the United State and the Gulf countries, treating our largesse as an entitlement, while contributing virtually nothing positive to regional security or prosperity…It has played no significant role in the counter-ISIS coalition…The Egyptian military has taken our aid while consistently rejecting the advice we’ve offered alongside it.” —Tom Malinowski

Government Abuse Promotes Extremism

“While no one can doubt the desire of the Egyptian government to end terrorism and defeat [the] Islamic State in Sinai, its tactics appear to be failing. Just as the terrorist attacks have become routine, so too have heavy handed Egyptian responses resulting in civilian causalities…I would suggest that in our general battle against terrorism, Mr. Chairman, Egypt is acting in ways that will in fact make it not an asset but a liability—indeed will make it a jihadi factory. ” –Elliott Abrams

“One consequence of the Egyptian government’s conflation of political dissent with terrorism is that in the country’s overcrowded prisons, peaceful protestors are held right alongside violent jihadists. I’ve heard from people released from those prisons that inside, the men from ISIS taunt those who had placed their faith in political activism: ‘You thought you could change Egypt through elections and look at what happened to you; next time, don’t be a fool and fight with us.’” —Tom Malinowski

Policy Recommendations

“We remain too much on automatic pilot, continuing an aid program that reflects a Middle East and an Egypt of thirty or forty years ago. That’s why this hearing and the Committee’s work to review that program and rethink the aid relationship with Egypt is of such great value.” —Elliott Abrams

“We should avoid reinforcing the Egyptian sense that US assistance is an entitlement. The Obama administration ended cash flow financing of military aid to Egypt, and that decision should stand.” —Tom Malinowski

“Do not give budget support to the government in the form of cash transfers or loan guarantees under current circumstances, as the funds will disappear quickly with no discernable benefit to Egyptian citizens or to the United States.” —Michelle Dunne

“We should have zero tolerance for the mistreatment of American citizens (several more of whom remain unfairly imprisoned), for continued anti-American propaganda in state media, and for the persecution of individuals or NGOs for association with Americans.” —Tom Malinowski

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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