The Obama administration’s notification to Congress that it would provide Egypt’s new government an emergency cash infusion of $450 million encountered resistance from a prominent lawmaker wary of foreign aid and Egypt’s new course under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, The New York Times reported on Friday.
The aid is part of the $1 billion in assistance that the Obama administration has pledged to Egypt to bolster its transition to democracy after the overthrow last year of former president Hosni Mubarak.
Its fate, however, was clouded by concerns over the new government’s policies and, more recently, the protests that damaged the American Embassy in Cairo, according to The New York Times.
The United States Agency for International Development notified Congress of the cash infusion on Friday morning during the pre-election recess, promptly igniting a smoldering debate over foreign aid and the administration’s handling of crises in the Islamic world.
An influential Republican lawmaker, Representative Kay Granger of Texas, immediately announced that she would use her position as chairwoman of the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing foreign aid to block the distribution of the money.
Granger said, according to The New York Times, that the American relationship with Egypt “has never been under more scrutiny” than it is in the wake of the election of President Mohammed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“I am not convinced of the urgent need for this assistance and I cannot support it at this time,” Granger said in a statement that her office issued even before the administration announced the package.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at a meeting of the Group of 8 nations in New York, said on Friday that the world needed to do more to support the governments that have emerged from the Arab Spring uprisings, including those in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
“The recent riots and protests throughout the region have brought the challenge of transition into sharp relief,” Clinton said, without mentioning the assistance to Egypt specifically. “Extremists are clearly determined to hijack these wars and revolutions to further their agendas and ideology, so our partnership must empower those who would see their nations emerge as true democracies.”
The debate comes as the issue of foreign aid in general made an unexpected appearance in the presidential campaign.
In a speech in New York on Tuesday, Obama’s Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, called for revamping assistance to focus more on investments in the private sector than on direct aid.
While Romney did not address aid to Egypt directly, noted The New York Times, he cited Morsi’s membership in the Muslim Brotherhood as one of the alarming developments in the Middle East, along with the war in Syria, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the killing of the American ambassador to Libya.
“A temporary aid package can jolt an economy,” he said. “It can fund some projects. It can pay some bills. It can employ some people some of the time. But it can’t sustain an economy — not for long. It can’t pull the whole cart, because at some point the money runs out.”
The $1 billion in assistance has been cobbled together from funds already appropriated by Congress, but the administration is required to notify lawmakers of its intention to release any of the funds. The New York Times noted that Granger presumably can put a hold on that release and pursue legislation to reverse the appropriation.
In addition to the $1 billion in assistance, the administration is working with Egypt to provide $375 million in financing and loan guarantees for American financiers who invest in Egypt and a $60 million investment fund for Egyptian businesses. All of that comes on top of $1.3 billion in military aid that the United States provides Egypt each year.
A senior State Department official said that the administration would consult with members of Congress in the days ahead “to make the case that this budget support is firmly in U.S. interests in seeing peace, stability and democracy in Egypt and the wider neighborhood.”
Republican senator Rand Paul from Kentucky recently wrote fellow senators that they should consider “cutting all foreign aid to any country that fails to secure our embassies.”
Paul threatened a filibuster to suspend aid to Egypt and other countries where Americans have been attacked.
Morsi said last week the United States needed to fundamentally change its approach to the Arab world, showing greater respect for its values and helping build a Palestinian state, if it hoped to overcome decades of pent-up anger.
In a 90-minute interview with The New York Times, Morsi said it was up to Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt, long a cornerstone of regional stability.