United States Assistance for Egypt

April 25, 2017

Testimony
Testimony by CFR fellows and experts before Congress.

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Elliott Abrams testified before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations. He gave his assessment of the security side of the U.S.-Egypt aid relationship and suggested that the United States should reconsider its security and economic assistance to Egypt.  

Takeaways 

  • Both the structure of U.S. aid to Egypt and the structure of the Egyptian military were established decades ago. Both should be rethought and upgraded.
  • The Middle East has changed and so too has Egypt’s role in the region. The Egypt of decades ago was the single most influential Arab country, whose position on every issue of significance in the region was of real importance to the United States. The United States could rely on Egypt to block measures in the Arab League, and Egypt was critical to the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Yet today Egypt has no role of significance when it comes to the conflict in Yemen, or in Iraq, or in Syria. Nor does it have much of a role in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians. Egypt’s weight in the region has declined.
  • U.S. aid should be based on a desire to help achieve a stable and secure Egypt that can defeat the terrorist threat it faces and protect its borders, helps to stabilize the region, and remain at peace with Israel. The U.S. should also help the Egyptian people achieve a system that is more democratic and more respectful of their human rights.
  • Egypt’s approach to combating terrorism, which the United States supports, is not succeeding. There is a real effort in Sinai, but very recently terrorism has extended again from northern to southern Sinai.
  • The Egyptian government clearly seeks to end terrorism and defeat Islamic State in Sinai, but its tactics are failing. Just as the terrorist attacks have become routine, so too have heavy-handed Egyptian operations resulting in civilian casualties. Egyptian security forces continue to accidentally kill considerable numbers of civilians in counterterror operations.
  • Egypt is acting in ways that will in fact make it not an asset but a liability—indeed will exacerbate the problem of extremism. It is estimated that there are 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt today—meaning individuals who did not commit crimes of violence. Egyptian policies of incarcerating political prisoners, coupled with poor prison conditions and rampant abuse by Egyptian security forces, will help create more extremists in the long term. In fact, the current policies of the government of Egypt almost guarantee that terrorism will continue and may indeed expand.

 Policy Options

  • The U.S. military assistance program is mostly irrelevant to the effort to combat terror in Egypt. The United States should review our aid to see how it can advance U.S. goals.
  • The United States remain too much on automatic pilot, continuing an assistance program that reflects a Middle East and an Egypt of days past. For that reason, the Committee’s work to review that program and rethink the aid relationship with Egypt is of such great value.
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