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Congressional Research Service: Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations

Author: Jeremy M. Sharp
January 28, 2011

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According to Jeremy M. Sharp of the Congressional Research Service, U.S. policy toward Egypt has long been framed as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. This report provides an overview of U.S.-Egyptian relations, Egyptian politics, and U.S. foreign aid to Egypt.

This report provides an overview of U.S.-Egyptian relations, Egyptian politics, and U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. Major public unrest transpiring in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world in late January 2011 raises challenging policy questions for the United States government and the 112th Congress. U.S. policy toward Egypt has long been framed as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and sustaining the March 1979 Egyptian- Israeli peace treaty. Successive U.S. Administrations have viewed Egypt's government as a moderating influence in the Middle East. At the same time, there have been increasing U.S. calls for Egypt to democratize. In recent years, congressional views of U.S.-Egyptian relations have varied. Many lawmakers have viewed Egypt as a stabilizing regional force, but some members have argued for the United States to pressure Egypt's government to implement political reforms, improve human rights, and take a more active role in reducing Arab-Israeli tensions. Those concerns, in addition to economic frustration, are now driving the most significant public unrest in Egypt in a generation. The Obama Administration has called on the Egyptian government to respect the basic rights of protestors and has expressed concern about violence.

U.S. policy makers are now grappling with complex questions about the future of U.S.-Egypt relations and these debates are likely to influence consideration of appropriations and authorization legislation in the 112th Congress. The United States has provided Egypt with an annual average of $2 billion in economic and military foreign assistance since 1979. In FY2010, the United States provided Egypt with $1.552 billion in total assistance. Congress appropriated FY2010 aid to Egypt in two separate bills: P.L. 111-117, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010, included $1.292 billion in economic and military assistance; and P.L. 111-32, the Supplemental Appropriations Act, FY2009, contained $260 million in FY2010 military assistance. Under P.L. 111-322, the Obama Administration can provide Egypt aid for FY2011 at FY2010 levels until March 4, 2011, or the passage of superseding FY2011 appropriations legislation. For FY2011, the Obama Administration is seeking $1.552 billion in total assistance, the exact same amount as the previous fiscal year. The Administration's request includes $1.3 billion in military assistance and $250 million in economic aid.

Prior to the recent unrest, Egyptian politics were already focused on the possibility of a leadership transition in the near future, and the 112th Congress may decide to express and support a U.S. desire for a more democratic government that preserves human rights and religious freedom for all citizens. In November and December 2010 parliamentary elections in Egypt, just one Muslim Brotherhood independent won a seat, and the ruling National Democratic Party won over 90% of all seats (as opposed to slightly less than 80% in the last parliament). Some analysts have criticized the Obama Administration for limiting public criticism of the Egyptian government. Others assert that U.S. democracy assistance funding has been largely ineffective and that U.S. assistance should seek to improve the lives of average Egyptians. Some critics of U.S. policy believe that U.S. aid should be conditioned on human rights and religious freedom improvements.

On January 28, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stated that “We are deeply concerned about the use of violence by Egyptian police and security forces against protestors, and we call on the Egyptian government to do everything in its power to restrain the security forces. At the same time, protestors should also refrain from violence and express themselves peacefully. As we have repeatedly said, we support the universal human rights of the Egyptian people, including the right to freedom of expression, of association, and of assembly.” Reconciling those principles with current developments is now the major challenge for U.S.-Egyptian relations.

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