The New York Times reports: “The Obama administration plans to resume military aid to Egypt, American officials said on Thursday, signaling its willingness to remain deeply engaged with the generals now running the country despite concerns over abuses and a still-uncertain transition to democracy.” Because the administration cannot plausibly certify that Egypt is meeting its human rights obligations, it is invoking national security grounds to justify the resumption of aid:
To restart the aid, which has been a cornerstone of American relations with Egypt for more than three decades, the administration plans on sidestepping a new Congressional requirement that for the first time directly links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to waive the requirement on national security grounds as soon as early next week, according to administration and Congressional officials. That would allow some, but not yet all of $1.3 billion in military aid this year to move forward, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could discuss internal deliberations.
Human rights groups are apoplectic. The group Human Rights First deplored the decision: “The U.S. government should not delude itself that it can protect its strategic interests by jettisoning its values. Indeed, no such return to the failed policies of the past, balancing security and strategic interests against support for advancing human rights and democracy is necessary or desirable.” The group warns that evading the congressional certification process is a mistake: “Ignoring the human rights and democracy conditions that Congress has placed on U.S. foreign assistance to Egypt would be seen as the U.S. government giving its unconditional support to anti-democratic forces in Egypt. It would be a severe blow to any pretensions the U.S. government may have to be seen as a supporter of universal values of human rights and democracy in the Middle East and North Africa and around the world.”
Amnesty International has already registered its complaints in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We urge you not to make such a certification, and we also oppose any waiving of this certification requirement. Making such a certification would undermine the brave struggle of the Egyptian people for a society founded on respect for human rights and the rule of law. Waiving the certification requirement would forfeit a key form of pressure for the advancement of human rights.”
Likewise, Human Rights Watch is questioning the premise behind continued aid. (“There’s a much bigger question here and that is: if we want to help a post-Mubarak Egypt, does the current aid package make the slightest bit of sense?”)
An experienced Middle East hand takes a more nuanced view. He tells me, “I think they should have waited. Going ahead now signals the generals and everyone else in Cairo that it is business as usual; that we think we need them and they can do what they please.” If we do release aid, he recommends doing it in small increments so the Egyptian military rulers are “still on the hook.”
To say that we have not found a workable policy for promoting democracy in the Middle East would be a gross understatement. In Syria, Egypt and elsewhere, the administration is unable or unwilling to influence events. Democracy and human rights will suffer as a result.