Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Wednesday,26 September, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The strings attached

A US bill to regulate aid to Egypt crosses the red line of Egyptian sovereignty and must be rejected by the Egyptian government, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 18 December, the Foreign Relations Committee of the United States Senate passed a bill, known as the Menendez-Corker Bill, to offer continued security and economic assistance to Egypt officially. The bill is entitled, “Egypt Assistance Reform Act of 2013”.
The bill reaffirms that any assistance to Egypt must be in the interest of the national security of the United States. It reflects bipartisan support for continued assistance to Cairo and the result of the joint efforts by Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, the chairman of the committee, and Republican Senator Bob Corker, the ranking member. Senator Menendez in introducing the bill said it reaffirms “the enduring US commitment to (our) partnership with the Egyptian government by authorising continued assistance… Assistance, however, is not a blank cheque; it should be used for programmes that support the Egyptian people as they pursue political and economic reform.”
The Foreign Relations Committee passed the bill by a 16-1 vote. Republican Senator Rand Paul cast the dissenting vote on the grounds that it was a mistake to have “less restrictions on foreign aid” and expressed his doubts as to whether “American defence contractors played a role behind the bill. Those who voted for its adoption made clear that their intentions were to support the cause of democracy in Egypt. Egypt’s interests.”
The bill is divided into two main titles, the first, “Prohibition on Assistance to Governments Following Coup D’Etat”. The second, “United States Assistance for Egypt”.
Under Title 1, which amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, the bill does not authorise foreign assistance to foreign governments “whose democratically-elected head of government is deposed by Coup d’Etat or decree in which the security services of that country play a decisive role.” It is up to the US secretary of state to determine whether a coup d’état has occurred or not. In this context, the secretary of state shall make this determination not later than 30 days after the enactment of the bill. It is expected that Congress will debate and vote on the bill in January 2014.
Needless to say, the Foreign Relations Committee passed the bill before the decision of the Egyptian government to label the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organisation”. I believe that this label will weigh on the debate around this bill. The reaction of the State Department in this respect could give us an idea of the positions of the Democrats in Congress, and probably some Republican Congressmen will have their own reservations, which will not differ from Democrats. Both the administration and Congress have emphasised the need to have an inclusive democratic process in Egypt, meaning the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in government. It goes without saying that the recent wave of terror in Egypt will figure in the congressional debate concerning the bill. The position that the White House will take in this respect will be a crucial factor.
The United States president, according to the bill, “may waive the restrictions in subsection (a) for a 180-day period if, not later than 5 days before the waiver takes effect, the President certifies to the appropriate congressional committees” that American assistance is in the vital interests of US national security, and that the government concerned is committed to “restoring democratic governance and due process of law, and is taking demonstrable steps toward holding free and fair elections in a reasonable timeframe.” The US president has the authority to extend the effective period of a waiver for additional 180-day periods.
The bill, in its Title 2, deals specifically with the case of Egypt. Generally speaking, it forbids any defence relationship with Egypt unless the secretary of state certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that providing American assistance is in the national security interests of the United States. On the other hand, the secretary should also certify that the government of Egypt continues to implement the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, is fighting terrorism, is allowing the United States Army to transit the territory of Egypt, is supporting a transition to an inclusive civilian government, is respecting and protecting the political and economic freedoms of all Egyptians, “including taking measures to address violence against women and religious minorities,” is respecting freedom of expression and due process of law, and finally, is abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, the restriction does not apply to defence items that are used in counterterrorism, border and maritime security or special operations capabilities or operations. The bill authorises the US president to waive the restrictions for a three-month period if American assistance is in the vital interests of US national security. The president “may extend the effective period of a waiver… for the remainder of fiscal year 2014 and an additional fiscal year” in case the US secretary of state submits a strategy document as outlined in later sections of the bill.
As a matter of fact, this strategy document is nothing less than a blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Egypt. And frankly speaking, I do not see how any responsible Egyptian official could accept US assistance in the future in such a context. The strategy is to be comprehensive and covers both military and economic assistance and aid to Egypt. On the defence side, it stresses the modernisation of the Egyptian armed forces as well as enhancing the capabilities if the Egyptian army in fighting terrorism, human trafficking and border smuggling, whether along the borders with Gaza or elsewhere. One objective of this strategy is unprecedented and I do not see any reason whatsoever why the Egyptian army would accept it. It seeks what the bill describes as: “Increase transparency, accountability to civilian authority, respect for human rights and the rule of law within the armed forces of Egypt.”
As an Egyptian citizen and as a former army officer, I would rather turn down US assistance altogether if the US administration will exercise such oversight on the Egyptian army. Honestly speaking, I do not see how any Egyptian government could ever accept such interference in the Egyptian army. This paragraph, if not deleted from the bill, would empower any person or any non-governmental organisation to ask to check whether the Egyptian army abides by these criteria. And this is totally unacceptable.
The bill has asked the secretary of state in working out this strategy to consult with the Egyptian government, among other institutions and organisations. Let us hope the Egyptian government will object to this paragraph and demand its deletion from the bill. Otherwise, the bill, if enacted as it stands now, will give the United States a legal right of oversight over our domestic affairs to the extent that our independence and sovereignty will be seriously endangered and compromised.

The writer is  former assistant to the foreign minister.

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