Pro/con: Funding gives the U.S. vital leverage with Islamists in Egypt
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Those who would like the United States to back off of its 2011 pledge to provide $1 billion in aid to Egypt, because of fears that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party rules the government, are failing to see the long-term advantages to the United States of such aid.
By continuing to support Egypt through the cash infusions, military assistance and loan guarantees for Americans doing business in Egypt, the United States can accomplish three major objectives:
u Help ensure that one of the most important regional players in the Middle East remains a U.S. ally.
u Use the leverage from the aid to ensure Egypt honors its Camp David peace treaty with Israel.
u Send a clear, unambiguous message to newly democratizing countries that their elections will be honored by America regardless of the outcome.
The voters’ choice
First, whether we like it or not, the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood is here to stay, and will continue to play a major role in Egyptian politics for years to come.
America’s goal should be to encourage peaceful political participation through electoral means, not to punish the country for electing an Islamist party. The Muslim Brotherhood represents an important political force among a new segment of participatory Islamists.
While we may not agree with all their policy decisions, the fact remains that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the more moderate manifestations of political Islam. It sends a very hypocritical message to cut off ties to a democratically elected government after having provided aid to authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak for more than 30 years.
Secondly, the aid will not undermine our support for Israel, which has been the beneficiary of a disproportionate level of American aid — $118 billion in aid since World War II, according to the Congressional Research Service — relative to Egypt.
Safeguards in place
By law, all assistance to Egypt is contingent on the country’s meeting certain requirements, including adherence to basic democratic values and maintaining the Camp David peace treaty with Israel.
In fact, cutting U.S. aid will likely alter Egypt’s calculation with Israel: To a large extent, the aid provides the necessary motivation for the Egyptian government to support the Camp David Accords. Without it, there will be far less incentive to support the peace agreement with its Jewish neighbor.
Thirdly, the aid will enhance and build on our relationship with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and that will improve our standing among other Arab and Muslim countries.
Branches of the Muslim Brotherhood will continue to be the leaders among Sunni Islamists and influence the democratization trend in many other Muslim majority countries including Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Palestinian Territory, Syria, Libya, Algeria and Morocco. We should make sure we are on the positive side of history as the region continues to transform over the next decade.
Finally, the $1.3 billion in military assistance that we provide to Egypt is good for America, since much of it comes back to the military industry and corporations such as Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics for equipment and services, as well as the local communities across the country that rely on these industries.
Cutting that aid would ultimately hurt American jobs, since the Pentagon’s foreign-aid weapon purchases for foreign contracts such as Israel or Egypt help bolster jobs in places like Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania - these states where much of the military hardware is built.
The State Department clearly believes that aid to Egypt is the right course of action, with spokeswoman Victoria Nuland recently saying that it “demonstrates our strong support for Egypt’s enduring role as a security partner and leader in promoting regional stability and peace.“
We should not lose sight of that in these transformative times.
Farid Senzai is assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University, and director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank focused on Muslim issues here and abroad.