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Sunday, 27 August 2017

US aid cut dominates conversation on Egypt

The Trump administration’s decision to cut or withhold some USD 290 mn in aid to Cairo continued to dominate the conversation on Egypt in the international press over the weekend.

Washington Post hails move to cut aid to Egypt: The move to withhold some of the US aid to Egypt has “heartened many critics of Trump’s foreign policy, who cheered the fact that the administration based its decision on Egypt’s poor human rights record,” Adam Taylor writes in the Washington Post. Taylor also brings to the fore the angle that the move could be to pressure Egypt to sever ties with North Korea, noting that “Egypt’s relationship with Pyongyang goes back to the Cold War, when North Korean fighter pilots helped train their Egyptian counterparts ahead of the 1973 war with Israel.” More recently, “it also was accused of illicitly procuring Scud missile parts from Pyongyang.”

The paper’s editorial board takes a harsher line, saying it is “an appropriate response to the most severe repression in the Arab country’s modern history and to the regime’s collaboration with North Korea.” Instead, they suggest the funding cut should be redirected to Tunisia, which the editorial board describes as “a struggling democracy that, unlike its neighbor, is eager to partner with the United States.” In an opinion piece for the paper, Jared Gesner advocates for a more systematic application of the “Leahy provision,” whereby the US can withhold up to 15% of its military aid to Egypt if it fails to take effective steps to advance democracy and human rights. A new set of metrics must be established to monitor Egypt’s human rights to make cutting aid to Egypt, which he calls “historic,” standard policy.

On the flipside, the decision has had a number of detractors in the foreign press, including from the Jewish Policy Center. “Egypt’s President El Sisi is willing to do what President Trump is willing to do – put its military where its strategic interests are. For this, Egypt should be welcomed as an ally and an asset in the defense of the West,” says Shoshana Bryen. She urges the Trump administration to look at Egypt’s role as a bulwark in the region for the biggest threats to US interests there: Daesh and Iran.

“History shows that foreign aid is a poor way to get what we want,” writes Jessica Trisko Darden for the Washington Post. She cites historical examples of how using the threat of cutting US aid has failed to have the desire result in Egypt, Pakistan, El Salvador and Mexico. For one, the US cannot fully back these threats when it comes to important strategic allies, as they might push them further away. Furthermore, the aid is usually small enough that withholding it does not make all that much of a difference, says Darden.

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