Monday, April 10, 2017

Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations

This report provides an overview of the key issues related to Egypt and U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. Historically, Egypt has been an important country for U.S. national security interests based on its geography, demography, and diplomatic posture. The United States has provided significant military and economic assistance to Egypt since the late 1970s. Successive U.S. administrations have justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running cooperation with the Egyptian military and on sustaining the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. 

 U.S. leaders also have consistently expressed concerns about governance and human rights in Egypt, and differences over these issues have tested bilateral relations repeatedly in recent years. The United States encouraged Egypt’s long-serving president Hosni Mubarak to step down in 2011 in the face of a popular uprising, and revised U.S. assistance programs two years later, when the Egyptian military intervened to oust Mubarak’s elected successor amid popular demands.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, who led the 2013 military intervention and was elected in mid-2014, reportedly has high hopes for improving bilateral relations through engagement with the Trump Administration. The Obama Administration first suspended and then recast U.S. assistance for Egypt after 2013, with Congress enacting legislation placing evolving conditions on continued U.S. aid. During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump attempted to differentiate his approach to Egypt from then-President Obama by personally praising Sisi and vowing to strengthen the bilateral relationship if elected. Some observers express concern that any improvement in U.S.-Egyptian ties may come at the expense of human rights in Egypt. 

 Egypt’s economy remains weak, the government faces significant fiscal challenges, and campaigns of insurgent and terrorist violence by various groups threaten the country’s security. Reports in the Egyptian media indicate that the Sisi administration is seeking, among other things, a restoration of certain major U.S. defense equipment sales to Egypt, an overall increase in U.S. aid to Egypt, and a U.S. designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. The Trump Administration may want Egypt to improve its counterterrorism and counter-insurgency efforts in the Sinai Peninsula, participate in a new international military coalition of Arab states, and play a more active role in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

Between 1948 and 2016, the United States provided Egypt with $77.4 billion in bilateral foreign aid (calculated in historical dollars—not adjusted for inflation), including $1.3 billion a year in military aid from 1987 to the present. This report discusses the conditions governing the release of these funds. All U.S. foreign aid to Egypt (or any recipient) is appropriated and authorized by Congress. All U.S. military aid to Egypt finances the procurement of weapons systems and services from U.S. defense contractors. President Obama requested that Congress appropriate $1.3 billion in FY2017 military assistance and $150 million in FY2017 economic aid for Egypt. Foreign Operations appropriations legislation considered in the 114th Congress (H.R. 5912 and S. 3117) would have provided the requested military assistance, with the Senate version of the bill providing $75 million in economic aid and including the FY2016 appropriations act’s withholding of 15% of FMF for Egypt from obligation until the Secretary of State can certify that Egypt is taking effective steps toward democracy and effective governance, among other things.

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