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Friday, October 10, 2008

U.S. reduces aid to Egypt over security failures

WASHINGTON — Congress has approved $1.5 billion in U.S. military and civilian aid to Egypt for fiscal 2009, which begins in October. The figure marked a 12 percent reduction from U.S. aid to Egypt in 2008, when Cairo received $1.71 billion.

Congressional sources said the U.S. military aid would be dependent on improvements in Egyptian security cooperation with Israel as well as Cairo's human rights record.

In December 2007, Congress enacted legislation that withheld $100 million in annual U.S. military assistance to Egypt. Egypt has been receiving about $1.3 billion in military aid per year, Middle East Newsline reported.

President George Bush signed the legislation as part of the U.S. foreign aid bill. But in March 2008, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waived the reduction in U.S. military assistance to Egypt as part of an agreement by Cairo to intensify security operations along the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip.

"The progress has not been everything in Egypt that we would have hoped for," Ms. Rice said on Oct. 8. "We have had setbacks there, we have had disappointments there."

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"Egypt is a vital ally and important strategic partner in advancing the peace process in the Middle East," House Foreign Operations Subcommittee chair Rep. Nita Lowey said.

"However, I am concerned that in recent years, Egypt has not shown much progress on strengthening democratic institutions, ensuring judicial independence, supporting a free press and promoting human rights. That is why I have placed conditions on $100 million of Egypt's aid package requiring progress on these goals."

A leading lobbyist against U.S. aid to Cairo has been Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, sentenced in absentia by an Egyptian court to two years on charges of defaming Egypt. Ibrahim has met leading members of the House and Senate in his campaign to link U.S. aid to an improvement in human rights in Egypt.

"I am pushing for conditionality, and I would like the democracy and freedom agenda to be a bipartisan one," Ibrahim said.

In September, Ibrahim met a range of senior House and Senate members. They included Ms. Lowey, Rep. Trent Franks, Sen. Sam Brownback and Sen. John Kerry.

The State Department has fought congressional attempts to reduce or link U.S. aid to Egyptian human rights or other conditions. Officials said previous attempts have enraged President Hosni Mubarak and threatened to torpedo U.S. strategic relations with Egypt.

"In my personal view, it is not a useful tool of diplomacy," former U.S. ambassador to Cairo, Francis Ricciardone, said.

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