U.S. Aid to Egypt Should Be Contingent on Democracy-Building in the Country

Many people were shocked by the news that Egypt’s military rulers detained staff members of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused on building democratic institutions. In particular, staff members from three American-based NGOs, which included a cabinet secretary’s son, are facing possible charges in the near future for providing funding to local groups that are supposedly trying to destabilize Egypt. This news is surprising to political leaders because the United States gives Egypt approximately $1 billion in aid annually. If the aid is necessary, it should be contingent upon Egypt’s government demonstrating progress in building democratic institutions.

As the U.S. government considers necessary cuts in order to decrease the national deficit, it should look directly at all the aid that is flowing out of the country with no material benefit to the tax-payers who are funding the bill; money that does not build roads, schools, clinics, etc. In the case of Egypt, not only is $1 billion in aid going directly to a non-transparent government; taxpayer funds are also paying for those three American-based NGOs that are working in Egypt. 

On the one hand, $1 billion is basically used to maintain the status quo (a military dictatorship that has not clarified its stance toward particular U.S. allies); on the other, millions of dollars are spent basically fighting against the interest of the ruling regime. This is a no-win situation for two reasons: (1) billions beats millions, and (2) it is a waste of funds that could be used to pay down the national debt.

Alas, this will probably not happen for two reasons. First, the prevailing political sentiment is that the direct aid sent to Egypt is the sole reason for its past and possible future conciliatory disposition towards Israel. It is no strings attached money. It is not for the benefit of all Egyptians or democratic institutions. It is for the ruling class and their consiglieres. 

Secondly, two of the NGOs are too politically connected to have its funding redirected or ended. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) is, in its own words, “loosely affiliated with the U.S. Democratic Party….” The chairperson of NDI is former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, who served in a Democratic administration. The listing of NDI board of directors is a Who’s Who of the Democratic Party. 

The International Republican Institute (IRI) has had the same chairperson since 1993: Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Its board of directors is littered with functionaries of the Republican Party. The NDI and the IRI receive funding from the congressionally authorized National Endowment for Democracy, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Department of State.

If there is anything that can be agreed upon about our current political system, it is the sense that a powerful lobby will always win out. In this case, the board members of NDI and IRI will ensure that its respective organizations will receive funding.  Similarly, if the direct aid to Egypt is premised on its pro- or neutral-Israel stance, then that funding will remain also. 

From a distance, based on America’s international interests, giving out the funds described above seems sensible. However, if both sides are in opposition to each other as assumed in this piece, then the funding is senseless. Needless to say, decreasing our national deficit is of greater interest to our national stability. All appropriations, including aid to Egypt and funding of NGOs, should be considered when selecting sources to pay down an ever-expanding debt bomb.

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