The Obama administration has decided to resume funding for Egypt’s military and will bypass congressional requirements that U.S. officials certify the country’s progress toward democracy, according to Capitol Hill aides.
The decision, which senior administration officials said will be announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday, drew heavy criticism from some in Congress, who accused the administration of squandering precious leverage over Egypt’s leaders as their country continues a wobbly transition to democracy.
This year’s allocation of aid — more than $1.5 billion, with the bulk earmarked for the military — was withheld amid the country’s crackdown on pro-democracy groups, including several U.S.-based organizations with close ties to political parties in Washington.
A law passed by Congress in December forbids funding unless the State Department certifies that Egypt is making progress on basic democratic freedoms.
But Clinton will waive those restrictions on national security grounds, according to administration officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision because it has not been formally announced.
Especially surprising is the Obama administration’s apparent decision to hand over the full amount to Egypt, according to congressional aides, rather than withholding portions to maintain leverage and doling out sums only to meet the obligations of ongoing defense contracts.
As recently as last week, the State Department appeared to favor the withholding approach, explaining in closed-door briefings that it would allow the United States to watch and wait during the next few critical months as Egypt undergoes a presidential election and rewrites its constitution.
But since then, officials appear to have abruptly shifted direction.
State Department officials declined to speak publicly about the decision, saying they are still notifying members of Congress.
But a senior administration official defended the decision, saying it is essential to preserve the U.S.-Egypt relationship. And although the United States has lingering concerns about human rights and democracy, the official said, “Egypt has made more progress in 16 months than in the last 60 years, including free and fair parliamentary elections and the transfer of legislative authority to the new People’s Assembly.”
The official also insisted that the United States will retain some control over the money but did not elaborate.
Even if the full $1.3 billion earmarked for Egypt’s military is deposited into a joint account held by the United States and Egypt, U.S. officials will still have to sign off on each withdrawal.
But if the money is granted, analysts and human rights advocates say, the United States loses considerable leverage.
“I am disappointed by this decision. The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who wrote last year’s legislation imposing conditions on the aid. “Now that Secretary Clinton has decided to use the law’s waiver authority, she should use the flexibility the law provides and release no more taxpayer funds than is demonstrably necessary.”
“Unfortunately, even doing it this way, I’m not sure we’ll actually get goodwill in Egypt,” said Jon B. Alterman, Middle East director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “One of the effects after decades of aid is a spectacular sense of entitlement from the Egyptians. The reaction you’re going to see will range from ‘You owed us this anyway’ to resentment that we’re helping the very military that has played a role in repression.”
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