The Obama administration is setting aside $150 million in emergency funding to help Egypt with its economic recovery, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today.
“It’s very clear that there is a great deal of work ahead to ensure an orderly, democratic transition,” Clinton told reporters after briefing senators about developments in Egypt and the broader Middle East. “It’s also clear that Egypt will be grappling with immediate and long-term economic challenges. The United States stands ready to provide assistance to Egypt to advance its efforts.”
She said the $150 million is needed “to put ourselves in a position to support the transition there and assist with their economic recovery.” The administration will dispatch officials next week to Egypt to talk about how to use the resources.
Meanwhile, some senators are now considering whether a broader spending package is needed to help other Mideast countries undergoing turmoil. Other senators have concerns, however, about providing additional funding to Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood rises to power.
“I think we need to really make sure we are filling vacuums with programs that will bring about stability,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Now is a great opportunity, maybe the best chance we’ve had in decades, to turn things around in the Arab world and we should be fully engaged economically.”
“I just think this is an opportunity that could be a great change for the good or this could be an absolute disaster. Sitting on the sidelines is a bad option,” he said.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., expressed concerns about funding Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood in power.
“The question is, if the policies that we associate with the Muslim Brotherhood – basically Islamic extremism, elevation of Sharia law over the rule of law, breaking international agreements that Egypt has had including the peace treaty with Israel – if those positions began to be the positions of the Egyptian government, then it would obviously affect Congress’s willingness to continue the level of support for Egypt,” Lieberman said.
“But what the Muslim Brotherhood does in Egyptian politics is up to the Egyptians,” he added. “I think our responsibility is to judge and react to the policies of the Egyptian government. I’m an optimist about what’s going to happen in Egypt. I think they’re on the road to democracy, and they’ll continue to be very good allies of the U.S.”
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she had not heard about a broader aid package for the Middle East, but she indicated support for additional funding for Egypt.
“Egypt is really in trouble, their No. 1 part of the economy – tourism – is dead right now,” Feinstein said.
“I think that the expectations of people that are the foundation and also the bulk of this movement are so extraordinary,” she said. “It all takes time, and it takes money, and it takes infrastructure.”
Clinton also criticized the fiscal 2011 spending plan put forward by House Republicans for cutting foreign aid.
“I certainly realize that these are very tough budget times and we must justify every single penny that we ask for,” she said. However, she added, diplomats and development officials are working with the U.S. military in countries “and we cannot do the job with two of our three hands tied behind our back.”