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Tuesday, April 13, 2004

"Talk like an Egyptian"

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with President Bush in Crawford, TX yesterday. In anticipation of that meeting, the Dreyfuss Report speculated that Bush would be leaning hard on Mubarak:
Chances are, Bush will deliver a lecture on democracy to the Egyptian leader, who’s sitting on top of a powder keg of Islamic fundamentalists and Muslim Brotherhood fanatics.
Dreyfuss wondered if Mubarak might likewise lecture Bush on Iraq, as it was the Egyptian President who predicted last year that the war in Iraq could produce "100 Osama bin Ladens."

Did everyone read the op-ed on Egypt in the Washington Post last Wednesday, April 7? I found a copy on an Africa website that may have a more permanent link. Who wrote these words?
The Egyptian elite should make room at the table for reformers and other activists who have a stake in development assistance, and it should share foreign assistance dollars more equitably with indigenous and international nongovernmental organizations. We already know from last month's conference in Alexandria that Arab civil society has concrete -- and forward-leaning -- positions on freedom, human rights and the status of women. These voices must be heard, and their counsel heeded....Because civil society plays an important role in determining progress, the Egyptian government should encourage the participation of indigenous nongovernmental organizations in the identification -- and achievement -- of these [significant economic and political] reforms.
Sure sounds like they could have been delivered by somebody from the UN, or the NGO community, or perhaps a European Foreign Minister.

If you said Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, reward yourself today -- eat some extra carbs or something.

Of course, while McConnell wrote those words, he was urging Bush (and Secretary of State Colin Powell) to lecture Mubarak about democracy -- and to threaten Egypt's foreign aid account with the US. This is a very significant sum of cash:
While Egypt has been a partner for Middle East peace and in the global war on terrorism, cooperation with the United States has come at high price to the American taxpayer. Since 1948 Egypt has received more than $59 billion in U.S. foreign assistance. For fiscal 2005, the foreign aid budget request for Egypt alone tops $1.8 billion.

Apart from cooperation on certain mutual security interests -- but not the liberation of Iraq -- what has U.S. foreign assistance secured in Egypt?

Not greater freedoms. According to the State Department's 2003 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Egypt remained a repressive country where citizens "did not have the meaningful ability to change their government" and where the government "significantly restricted freedom of assembly and association."

Not greater tolerance. The Middle East Media Research Institute, which tracks the Egyptian press, cites a Jan. 2 editorial in the Egyptian government daily Al-Masaa praising suicide bombers for attacks in Israel. It also cites an Oct. 14 article in a religious weekly that is published by the official Egyptian daily Al-Gumhuriya by the former undersecretary for religious affairs that fans the flames of anti-Semitism by stating that "trickery is the nature of the Jews."

Not greater economic opportunity. According to the World Bank, Egypt's average annual per capita income is $1,490, and the official unemployment rate is 9 percent (although the actual rate is thought to be higher)....

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell should use the occasion of President Mubarak's upcoming visit to cement Egypt's commitment to implementing much-needed political and economic reforms....

Should Egypt fall short on its commitments, the United States must retain control of foreign aid dollars so that funds can be shifted to other development sectors -- or returned to the U.S. Treasury. Such a "use it or lose it" approach might provide necessary motivation for the Egypt government to accelerate much-needed political and economic reforms.
I think there's wide agreement that Egypt should become more democratic. The question is whether we can trust the Bush administration to employ the appropriate diplomatic skill to accomplish anything meaningful -- or will it merely threaten in a heavy-handed way to cut off economic assistance if Egypt does not shape up pronto?

As former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote in March, the Bush administration's "democracy initiative" was revealed in a patronizing manner and is widely viewed as a justification for not pushing Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Vice President Cheney called democracy a prerequisite to peace in the region and many scholars of the region, as well as national leaders in both the Middle East and Europe, think that the US is trying to compel states to accept its view of democratic reform.

As Dreyfuss wrote, "Having mangled Iraq, there’s a chance that President Bush might start doing the same to Egypt."

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