Since 1979, Egypt has been among the top non-NATO recipients of American foreign aid, garnishing over a billion dollars annually in recent years. Last year’s revolution cast doubt on the future of that tight relationship, as the White House braced itself for the uncertain future of the Arab nation’s leadership. After a tumultuous year and a half, WSJ reports, U.S. policymakers are hammering out the final details of a massive, $1 billion debt-relief package for the new democratic Egypt:
U.S. diplomats say American funding for Egypt has been stalled by disagreements over how the government in Cairo will allocate the debt relief. The envoys currently in Cairo are negotiating over slightly less than half the money, which would be paid as a direct cash transfer to Egypt’s budget.The larger portion, about $550 million, would be doled out in a debt-swap program in which both the U.S. and Egyptian governments would agree on how the money will be allocated.
The discussions over this aid package are a harbinger for many new problems that U.S. foreign policy will face in the new and unfamiliar political landscape of the Middle East. To begin, American voters don’t really like foreign aid even in the best of times. And it’s easy to understand why: people wonder why their tax dollars are building schools and helping poor people thousands of miles from home rather than helping people here in the United States. On top of that, they suspect—not without reason—that crooked foreign politicians steal some of the money and clueless bureaucrats waste much of the rest.The new surge of Islamism in the Middle East introduces another new hurdle: the policies of a lot of these governments aren’t going to be very popular in the United States. Is Congress really going to support aid for countries that don’t give Christian minorities full civil rights? What about countries that limit the rights of women while influential preachers who advise their leaders say God gives husbands the right to beat their wives? And what about countries whose leaders take every opportunity to rattle sabers over Israel?Foreign policy experts may understand the intricacies of working with a country like Egypt and the importance of maintaining American influence there, but historically they aren’t very good at explaining these things to Congress. Whether or not that changes, you can expect American foreign aid to the Middle East to become a more contentious issue in the era of the Brotherhood in Egypt, Ennahda in Tunisia, and, should it ever happen, Hamas-Fatah unity in the Palestinian Territories.