Obama, Mubarak, and the $4bn slush fund

As she criticises (kid gloves firmly in place) the Mubarak government’s decision to further extend Egypt’s emergency laws, Hillary Clinton simultaneously debates whether or not to hand over a $4 billion endowment to the Egyptian government.

Foreign Policy has the text of the Egyptian proposal for the endowment, which makes for some bitterly ironic reading. It asks for aid to be  ‘predictable and not related to conditionalities that may hamper implementation’ – conditionalities, it is assumed, that include political repression, curtailment of civil liberties, and the routine of beatings, arrests, and torture for those oppose them. The endowment model is a change from the previous aid arrangement, agreed back in 1978 as part of the Camp David accords.

Bush cut aid to Egypt just before he left office, and the Obama administration has already made some changes to its aid to Egypt – cutting the amount given to democracy movements in the country and setting up something called the Mubarak-Obama Education, Science, and Technology Fund (those names linked by a hyphen make me a feel a little queasy…). The endowment model aims to affirm a long term commitment between the two countries; as the Egyptian proposal puts it, ‘a symbol of the manifestation of the depth of this relationship’.

An endowment will remove congressional oversight from aid to Egypt, giving Mubarak’s government more control over what has been termed a ‘slush fund’. Human rights groups and others with an interest in the region have criticised the proposal: ‘Congress ought to be wary of allocating resources while leaving those details to be determined after the fact’, said Stephen McInerney of the Project on Middle Eastern Democracy. To add to the mix, the motives of the Republian senator pushing the endowment, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) are unclear; last year he pushed an appropriations bill that put $50 million into the endowment. It is the ‘no strings attached’ approach that worries opponents of the move; as the divisions between the Egyptian people and their government grow ever wider and more polarised, a $4 billion handout is not in the interests of the regional democracy and stability of which Obama claims to be an advocate.

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