The new congressional spending bill includes provisions to allow the restoration of military aid to Egypt. As Al-Monitor reports:
The bill spells out in greater detail than previously the steps Congress wants Sisi’s government to take [before it will resume providing the $1.3 billion in annual military aid]. Before the first $726-million portion of military and economic aid can be released — barring a waiver — Kerry must certify to Congress that Egypt: has held free and fair parliamentary elections; is implementing laws or policies to govern democratically and protect the rights of individuals; is implementing reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including the ability of civil society organizations and the media to function without interference; is taking consistent steps to protect and advance the rights of women and religious minorities; is providing detainees with due process of law; is conducting credible investigations and prosecutions of the use of excessive force by security forces; and has released American citizens who the secretary of state determines to be political prisoners and dismissed charges against them.Another $762 million could be released if Kerry certifies six months later that those conditions are being met.
Despite laying out detailed requirements that Egypt must meet, the bill also includes a waiver clause that would allow the Administration to release the aid unconditionally so long as it is deemed necessary to U.S. “national security.” Cuts in military aid to Egypt following the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government and the restoration of military rule under Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi have been a major obstacle in U.S.-Egyptian relations. The annual grant of $1.3 billion per year in military aid has been a key component of the bilateral relationship since it was made one of the provisions of the Camp David peace accords in 1979.The Egyptian government views the annual aid as sacrosanct, and regards any cuts both as an insult to the current government and as a dangerous hindrance to Egypt’s fight against terrorism. While that fight is real, particularly in the Sinai, Egypt’s broad definition of terrorism has also allowed military assets and anti-terrorism laws to be used as part of a crackdown on civil rights and political freedom as the regime sought to consolidate power.Given the tumult in the Middle East these days, it seems virtually certain that the national security lobby will beat the human rights campaigners when it comes to Egypt’s military aid. Egypt has never had more friends in Washington; both the Saudis and the Israelis want the United States to support a country whose stability they believe is essential to their own peace.If the clueless American response to the Arab Spring tells us anything at all, it is that America’s human rights and democracy promotion agenda in the modern Middle East is a flop. The political dynamics that drive these societies are things we often don’t understand very well, and the attempt to coax or to bully Arab states into adopting European style human rights measures, commendable as these may be from a moral standpoint, don’t have a history of success.Belief in human rights and liberal democracy is so deeply engrained in American political culture that it is pointless to wish, as some self-described “realists” like to do, that the United States would drop this whole messy subject and make practical deals with useful dictators without the human rights posturing and liberal handwringing. As long as the United States remains a democratic country, and as long as the Congress has a voice in foreign relations, Wilsonian moralism is going to have its place in our foreign policy.For now, the use of “waivers” is the awkward method by which we allow our security concerns to elbow aside our humanitarian ideals. If Kerry can’t “certify” that Egypt has complied with our demands, the Administration can still issue a waiver that allows the aid to go forward. It’s not a happy compromise. It makes us look hypocritical while irritating the people we are trying to work with. But it’s the best we can do, and so between them President Obama and the Congress are about to infuriate the opponents of Egypt’s government by aiding President Sisi even as we infuriate Egypt’s generals by holding our noses while we sign the checks.