A House subcommittee unanimously approved $190 million in emergency aid to Egypt yesterday after being told it will help to shore up President Anwar Sadat in "a real hour of need."
Assistant Secretary of State Alfred L. Atherton said Egypt has asked for new help from the United States as well as other donor countries after the serious riots two weeks ago against Sadat's austerity program, which included increases in the price of food, soap, cigarettes and other commodities.
"This is important to the strengthening of President Sadat, who in turn is important to the peace process in the Middle East," Atherton told the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.
The funds involves are being transferred from long-term development projects previously approved by Congress to commodity shipments, which can be carried out and noticed quickly. The executive branch is required to notify Congress before making such shifts.
Rep. Clarence D. Long (D-Md.), the subcommittee chairman, ordered yesterday's hearing after President Carter asked for approval of the transfer in a White House meeting Tuesday. Long said he was disturbed by several factors, including the continuing high level of Egyptian military expenditures, but in the end voted with other subcommittee members to approve the plan.
"Egypt is the key country in getting negotiations started [on an overall Middle East settlement] and in making progress is those negotiations," Atherton told the subcommittee. While cautioning that peace is not just around the corner, Atherton said the Arab countries "have arrived at a determination to make an all out effort" for an Arab-Israeli settlement.
Atherton conceded that the new aid is probably more important for political and psychological reasons than for its impact on the shaky Egyptian economy. The aid will be seen as indicating continuing U.S. support, he said. Disapproval of the aid would be a serious blow to Sadat's image at home and in the Arab world, he added.
Former President Ford, on his last day in office, approved $60 million in additional food aid for Egypt. This action, which did not require a congressional role, came two days after the Egyptian riots broke out, but had been proposed within the administration before the trouble.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is not expected to obtain to the expedited aid for Sadat's government.