Just two weeks after Egypt allowed detained American nongovernmental workers to leave the country, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected to issue a waiver allowing the U.S. to resume military aid to Cairo, The New York Times reports.
Egypt’s planned prosecution of 43 civil-society workers, 16 of them Americans, on charges of illegally operating democracy-promotion programs and stirring unrest in the country put the virtually sacrosanct package of $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid in jeopardy for the first time in three decades.
Congress passed new requirements on the fiscal 2012 military aid requiring the administration to certify that Egypt was supporting the transition to democratic government and implementing policies to protect due process of law and freedom of expression, association, and religion. Cairo's travel ban on the accused Americans, many from prominent U.S.-funded organizations, sparked a firestorm on Capitol Hill and made certification virtually impossible. The immediate crisis subsided when the Americans were allowed to leave the country on March 1.
Despite lingering concerns about human-rights abuses in the country, Clinton is expected to issue a waiver to sidestep the new congressional requirement as early as next week on national security grounds. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday, after the initial reports surfaced, that no decision on the certification of aid to Egypt had been made.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the author of the new conditions on the military-aid package, told National Journal in an e-mailed statement on Friday that the waiver would be a "mistake" under current circumstances in Egypt. "The new conditions are intended to put the United States squarely on the side of the Egyptian people who seek a civilian government that respects fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to clearly define the terms of our future relations with the Egyptian military," said Leahy, who chairs the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee.
Sam LaHood, of the International Republican Institute and the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, spent weeks hiding in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, fearing trial in an Egyptian courtroom. While LaHood, the organization's country director in Egypt, was finally allowed to leave the country, the criminal charges against him and other American civil-society workers are technically still pending.
Yet LaHood, in a recent interview with National Journal, acknowledged the crackdown isn't centered on him or personnel from the other targeted American organizations like National Democratic Institute or Freedom House. Egypt’s broader crackdown reportedly targets 300 organizations in Egypt, LaHood said, adding that he is worried for his local colleagues still facing trial in the country.
The decision to waive the restrictions on aid is also sure to be unpopular with human-rights advocates. Egypt’s interim military council has sent as many as 12,000 civilians to face military trial, and some military units are accused of torture and sexual abuse. All the while, activists have slammed the Obama administration’s apparent reticence to take a tough public stand against the military council’s human-rights violations, giving weight to public opinion there that the United States would rather preserve its own interests at the cost of an undemocratic government, as it did for 30 years under Hosni Mubarak.
Already, Amnesty International USA sent a letter to Clinton opposing the continuation of aid to Egypt until the human-rights situation is resolved. “Making such a certification would undermine the brave struggle of the Egyptian people for a society founded on respect for human rights and the rule of law,” wrote Adotei Akwei in a letter released on Thursday. “Waiving the certification requirement would forfeit a key form of pressure for the advancement of human rights.”
Speaking after a meeting with LaHood and the other freed American activists earlier this month, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., argued against renewing aid to Egypt. The United States should not give money to nations that are acting the “opposite of what we think free and democratic countries should be,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “At the bare minimum ... don’t hold our American citizens hostages. I just think that sends the wrong message. If we go back home and tell our constituencies, ‘Now [give] a billion dollars to Egypt, because they let our people go’—people [will] say, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
But it appears many in Congress are concerned about the effects of cutting off aid, which the U.S. has provided since Egypt signed the Camp David peace treaties with Israel. Speaking during a visit to Cairo on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the NGO flashpoint was a "bump" in the road. “The strength of Egypt, its stability, is important to the region and to the world,” Pelosi said on Thursday, “and we want to be helpful in that regard.”
Leahy stressed that a waiver would not immediately trigger the release of the funds. “Secretary Clinton could subsequently release any amount, at whatever rate she chooses," he said.
“I know how deeply Secretary Clinton supports the aspirations of the Egyptian people. The flexibility built into the new law is a tool that can strengthen our partnership with the Egyptian people," he continued. If the law is waived, I hope this flexibility will be used to release no more taxpayer funds from the Treasury than is demonstrably necessary, withholding the rest pending further progress in the transition to democracy.”