CAIRO: As Egypt s western allies begin to express displeasure over hindrances toward democratic advancements, the effectiveness of U.S. military aid to Egypt has been questioned in a congressional report released last week The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress s watchdog agency, cited the challenges of monitoring precisely how the military aid is being used.
Egypt receives an estimated $2 billion in financial aid ($1.3 billon military aid) annually from the United States, making it second to Israel s $2.6 billion. In recent months, Washington has vigorously touted its ideologies of democratic reform across the region, sending senior members of the Bush Administration to ally countries, including Egypt. However, recent violent crackdowns by security forces, coupled with reports of election irregularities and mired opposition, have raised doubts regarding the government s commitment to fostering reform.
There has been wide discontent inside Congress regarding Egypt s credentials for democratic reform, says Mohamed El-Sayed Said, deputy director of the state-run Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. [Congress] doesn t have legitimate concerns on this issue. The military is not the agency that is suppressing the public or suppressing freedoms.
Military assistance from the United States accounts for approximately 80 percent of Egypt s budget. Much of the funding has gone toward replacing old Soviet weaponry with U.S. equipment. Egypt is looking to have 66 percent of its military inventory American-made by 2020. American officials maintain that as a key Arab ally, military and economic assistance to Egypt is essential for ensuring regional stability.
Aid to Egypt does not come without reward. The Suez Canal has served as a gateway for the expedited in-and-outbound transport of U.S. military inventory and personnel for operations throughout the region, specifically to the Persian Gulf, as well as the use of Egyptian airspace. Egypt also hosts military training exercises, such as the biannual Operation Bright Star, which works toward training some 23,000 U.S. troops.
The benefit to [the U.S.] in this relationship is to have a fairly loyal ally in the Arab world that assists in their fight against terror and assists in whatever attempts they make to keep the Palestinian-Israeli situation from getting totally out of hand, notes Glen Johnson, executive director of the Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdel Aziz El-Saud Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo. Mubarak and the Egyptian government are constructive on that side and part of their policies are the result of what has been cultivated by this relationship.
Although Egypt has used the aid to buy Apache helicopters, F-16 aircraft and M1A1 tanks, the GAO noted the Pentagon lacks ways of gauging progress in assuring interoperability of equipment and modernizing the force. Arms sales between the two countries have been a steady method for maintaining military ties, but also a controversial one. In 1999, the U.S. Defense Department defended a decision to sell Egypt sophisticated Patriot air defense missiles, asserting that Egypt would otherwise take it as an insult and seek another supplier.
Some experts say backlash from recent human rights violations in Egypt could result in implications for the United States. The Bush Administration has been criticized for being too lax with the current government following reports of police beatings, mass arrests and attacks on journalists.
Concurrently, the imprisonment of El-Ghad party leader and presidential runner-up Ayman Nour has been an issue of contention between the two governments.
The U.S. State Department released a statement following last week s mayhem surrounding Egypt s judge s protests, which resulted in excessive violence and detainments by security forces, noting that the Bush Administration is not supporting a cut in aid, though there continues to be a great deal of discussion on Capitol Hill. Egypt s Ambassador to Washington says so long as Egypt recognizes the benefit of this mutual relationship with the United States, he does not foresee any change in the financial aid package.
It’s a relationship that is strategic and I seriously believe that to pursue Egypt’s national interests, by way of growth, by way of security, by way of presence globally, it serves our interests to have a strong relationship with the U.S., Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. Nabil Fahmy tells the Daily Star Egypt. It doesn’t mean that we will be a banana republic or that we will stand every American request, but it is in our interest to develop a positive relationship with the U.S., because that serves Egypt first of all.