Defense & National Security

Congress, public opinion diverge on aid to Egypt

Congress, public opinion diverge on aid to Egypt

A new poll suggests that Congress is pressing ahead with sending money to the new Egyptian government against the wishes of a majority of the American people.

A new poll by the Washington-based public policy organization Brookings Institution finds that a majority of Americans support reducing aid to Egypt after what they consider the Egyptian government’s weak response to attacks on the American embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11.

Republican respondents preferred reductions in aid by the largest margins. Eighty-seven percent agreed with the argument that it is unwise for the U.S. to give large amounts of aid to Egypt while its own economy continues to struggle, according to the report the Brookings Institution released Oct. 8.

Seventy-four percent of respondents, including Republicans, Democrats and independents, agreed with that argument, while 61 percent overall said they found an pro-aid argument presented in the survey unconvincing.

Fifty-three percent of respondents said they believed the governments in Egypt and Libya did not try to protect American diplomats and their staff from the attacks on Sept. 11.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington-based think tank, reported on Sept. 14, “The Obama Administration is finalizing an aid package to Egypt that includes forgiving approximately $1 billion of Egypt’s debt to the United States. This is in addition to about $1.5 billion in annual U.S. foreign aid.”

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations staffer Perry Commack was on a panel hosted by the nonprofit Center for National Policy on Oct. 4. In his remarks, he said: “Unlike the situation in Benghazi, which really was an American and, frankly, a Libyan tragedy, I think this is a different issue with a different magnitude and it’s a bump in the road.”

The attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including J. Christopher Stevens, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Libya. The White House has confirmed that the deadly attack was an act of terrorism. Reports show Al Qaeda links to the attacks and protests in both Libya and Egypt.

In a CBS interview last month, President Barack Obama called the embassy attacks “bumps in the road.”

Shibley Telhami, a nonresident senior fellow at Brookings, conducted the poll on American public opinion regarding aid to Egypt. At the Center for National Policy panel, he said the embassy attacks in Cairo on Sept. 11 were less a reaction to the inflammatory portrayal of the prophet Muhammad in the Internet film “Innocence of Muslims” and more an expression of resentment against President Barack Obama, the Iraq war, and U.S. support for Israel.

Commack said of the attacks, “Some folks are making comparisons: you know, is this Tehran 1979? It may end up there, but at least from my perspective, I don’t really see that as a likely scenario.”

Congress has moved to increase Egypt’s incentives to reject an authoritarian sway like the one that pushed Iran down a bloody path of war, mass executions and the American diplomat hostage crisis in the aftermath of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

The Continuing Appropriations Resolution for 2013, passed by Congress and signed by the President in September, provides for continued aid to Egypt contingent on the existing stipulation that the country’s leadership not hinder the society’s democratic transition.

Abuse of power by leadership has continued after the resignation of Muhammad Hosni El Sayed Mubarak, Egypt’s president for 30 years until the revolution in 2011. A cafe owner died shortly after the police beat him at the police station last month, The New York Times reported.

Regarding the conditionality imposed on the 2013 aid appropriations for Egypt, Commack said, “We’re all kind of stuck, in Washington and Cairo as well, about how to open up that discussion.”

Rand Paul legislation

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced legislation to cut off aid to the governments of Libya, Egypt, and Pakistan before recessing in September.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, denounced the bill during floor debate with Paul. The bill was defeated, 10 in favor and 81 opposed.

Still, the fate of those funds that go to Egypt is not certain, Commack said.

“It’s not clear what the Egyptian government, what the political system, will look like, so I think there’s a recognition on both sides that things are changing and will change, but I don’t know that anyone’s really wrapped their arms around what this relationship is going to look like, two, three, four five years out,” he said.

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