President Obama has eagerly claimed credit for the “Arab Spring” as a huge foreign policy success. He mentions it in many of his speeches, and his recently unveiled 2013 budget proposal includes $770 million for a “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” designed to keep those new democracies springing right along.
Egypt's new masters, the Muslim Brotherhood, are very much in agreement that they deserve lavish funding. In fact, those lovable scamps are threatening to consider any reduction in U.S. aid as a violation of the Camp David Accords, which negotiated their peace treaty with Israel. From the Jerusalem Post:
US aid to Egypt is guaranteed by the Camp David Accords, and stopping it would be a violation of that treaty, a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker said Sunday.
Essam El-Erian, who also serves as chairman of the Egyptian parliament's foreign affairs committee, said that should aid from Washington be cut, the Brotherhood would consider changing the terms of Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
El-Erian told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat the US needs to understand that “what was acceptable before the revolution is no longer,” and that should the aid provisions outlined in the treaty be modified, it could open the door to further changes in the agreement.
(Emphasis mine.) American economic aid is actually opposed by about 71 percent of the Egyptian populace, precisely because they view it as an insult to their sovereignty, and payment for obeying the unpopular Camp David Accords. Of course, an awful lot of that money disappears into the haunted tombs of Egyptian government, both pre- and post-Mubarak, so the Egyptian man on the street may not cherish those aid dollars the same way as the officials of the Muslim Brotherhood do.
Also, there is political advantage to be gained from pushing America around and making the Obama Administration grind its teeth in the face of threats, even if the subject of the new government's demands is widely disliked by the Egyptian people. Arab populations swallow much more extreme paradoxes on a daily basis.
Why would the Obama Administration suddenly be reluctant to part with subsidies for the children of that wonderful Arab Spring? Well, there is a terrible budget crisis brewing, and it really doesn't make sense to send $1.3 billion in military assistance, plus $250 million in civilian aid, to people who don't want it…
Just kidding! Such considerations are never going to close off the foreign-aid spigot, especially not from an Administration that views a billion dollars as a rounding error. Actually, the problem is that Egypt's blossoming democracy has been taking hostages, as reported by CNS News:
Egyptian judges have referred 16 Americans and 27 others linked to [Non-Government Organizations] for trial, accusing them of using foreign funds to encourage disruptive protests. Among the targeted NGOs whose assets and funds have been seized are the U.S. government-funded International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute.
On Capitol Hill, the chorus of senior lawmakers calling for aid to Egypt to be suspended over the affair is growing, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned that the funds could be in jeopardy.
A lot of the old Mubarak crew is still in power, but without the former dictator's personal allegiance to U.S. interests (which we paid a lot of money to purchase) they're eager to demonstrate that external meddling in Egyptian affairs will not be tolerated. Thus, we find ourselves in the unique position of being hated by one Egyptian faction for the foreign aid that another faction says we'd better not cut, unless we want to push Egypt closer to war against Israel.
One reason for the NGO crackdown is that the military junta is facing some extremely large protests in Cairo – attracting virtually no major media coverage in the United States, which seems odd, given how big of a story Egypt used to be – and they're looking for ways to de-legitimize the dissenters. Many of the protesters are convinced they're still living under the Mubarak regime, which got nothing more than a face lift by deposing the old strongman.
The CNS report says we have even more exciting developments to look forward to:
“This is only the beginning of the anti-American populism/nationalism/Islamism we are going to be seeing in Egypt from now on,” Mideast expert Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Israel, wrote in a column Sunday.
“What's amazing is that nobody is pointing out that if an Egyptian government is willing to risk U.S. aid and have a confrontation on this small issue, what are they going to do regarding big issues?' Rubin said. “What happens when the Egyptian government moves toward Islamism or helps Hamas fight Israel on some level? We have been told that fear of losing U.S. aid will constrain Egypt. But we are now seeing that this simply isn't true.”
The Associated Press reports that Army General Martin Dempsey has just returned from a mission to Egypt, and told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he did his best to ensure the Egyptian military understands the severity of the situation:
"I spent about a day-and-half in conversation with them, encouraging them in the strongest possible terms to resolve this so that our military-to-military relationship could continue," Dempsey told the committee. "I am convinced that potentially they were underestimating the impact of this on our relationship. When I left there, there was no doubt that they understood the seriousness of it."
Dempsey said his trip had been planned prior to the crackdown on the non-profit groups. He said he met with key leaders whom the United States has dealt with for years.
"I explain to them that I was coming there to talk to them about our (military) relationship, about Syria, about Lebanon, about the Sinai, but that I couldn't do that because we had this issue that was an impediment to that," he said.
One year after the fall of Mubarak, the saga of the “Arab Spring” is far from over.