The United States has delivered, on average, $2 billion in aid to Egypt every year since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979. This corresponds almost exactly to the start of Hosni Mubarak’s presidency; after serving as vice president of Egypt since 1975, Mubarak became president in 1981 and remained in power until the recent revolution. Egypt’s economy has declined steadily since Mubarak took the reigns of government.
Evidence strongly suggests that American aid to Egypt contributed to its deterioration and, consequently, the recent turmoil in the country. U.S. aid has had negative political, economic and social impacts in Egypt, so future aid allocations must be better planned.
Of the $2 billion in aid, $1.3 billion is military aid, defined as equipment or money given to an ally to assist in its defense efforts, or to a poor country to help it maintain control over its own territory. Foreign military financing is provided by the U.S. “without conditions,” according to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, which has had a disastrous effect in Egypt by strengthening the authoritarian Mubarak regime. Military aid benefits the military and, by extension, the government, since the president is also the supreme commander of the military. As a result, U.S. military aid served to increase repression and government control against popular movements. In fact, some equipment that was used against the protestors in Egypt was reported to be American.
The U.S. also provides Egypt with hundreds of millions in economic aid in the form of USAID programs. Contrary to alleviating unemployment and poverty, these programs contribute to their worsening. For example, the Commodity Import Program provides financing to Egyptian entities to import U.S. goods at the cost of hurting local businesses. Another program ensures that work contracts are sold to American companies at less competitive prices than Egypt could have obtained had the bidding been open to international companies from outside the United States. Most of these programs are craftily designed to deliver economic benefits to the U.S. without addressing the real needs of the Egyptian people, and at the cost of Egypt’s economy.
U.S. aid has had little impact on the improvement of Egyptian society. First, there are no respect-for-human-rights conditions tied to any form of aid provided to Egypt. This allowed the Mubarak government, empowered by military aid, to violate their helpless population’s fundamental rights. Second, direct funding to NGOs for programs that promote democracy and good-governance was suspended by Mubarak’s request. Third, U.S. aid has not increased the number of jobs or helped to modernize Egypt’s financial sector.
All in all, U.S. aid merely served to enforce Mubarak’s destructive regime in exchange for priority access to the Suez Canal and promised peace with Israel. Through aid provisions, the U.S. gained political, strategic, and economic benefits, but Egypt lost its economy and the freedom of its people.
Kavya Joshi is a member of the Class of 2012.