“We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters in Munich on Saturday. “We do not want that.”
Under new conditions imposed by Congress, the Obama administration must certify that Egypt is taking specific steps toward democracy before disbursing $1.3 billion in military aid. But a senior Obama administration official, who was not authorized to speak by name, said there is currently no way to certify that all conditions are being met.
“We’ve told the Egyptians that we’re in a very difficult situation,” the official said.
That message is being hammered home by the State Department, the Pentagon and — in a rare show of bipartisanship — Republican and Democratic lawmakers, many of whom are meeting with a delegation of Egyptian generals visiting Washington. In discussions, U.S. officials — from President Obama to the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo — have repeatedly warned of the consequences if Egypt doesn’t change course.
Thus far, the Egyptian leadership appears unmoved.
“The perception that this aid only benefits Egypt is wrong,” said a senior Egyptian diplomat on condition he not be named. “This is an ongoing investigation by the independent judiciary. How can the U.S. say you want democracy in Egypt and then say next that the Egyptian military should squeeze the judge to do this or that?”
Egyptian officials have asserted that their investigation of the American NGOs reflects their concerns that foreign meddling has been driving ongoing protests. But authorities’ recent decision to bar several members of the nonprofits from leaving the country — including Sam LaHood, the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood — has only worsened matters.
At stake in the growing rift over the issue is a fragile post-revolution relationship between the United States and Egypt. U.S. aid to Cairo began flowing in 1979 following Egypt’s peace deal with Israel. Over time, assistance to the Egyptian military became a routine, almost sacrosanct transaction.
That changed last year in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. In a bid to keep the country’s military on the path to democracy, members of Congress, led by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) tacked on conditions to U.S. aid to Egypt. The new rules required that the State Department certify that Egypt is committed to fair elections and abides by its 1979 peace treaty with Israel, and enact policies to protect “freedom of speech, association and religion and due process of law.”