Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations Hearing on U.S. Assistance for Egypt

Less than three weeks ago Egypt’s President el-Sisi visited Washington where he met with President Trump, other U.S. officials, and Members of Congress.  So this is a timely and important opportunity to discuss U.S. aid for Egypt.

Since 1946, American taxpayers have provided more than $79 billion in economic and military aid for Egypt, and that does not include excess defense equipment valued at billions of dollars.  I suspect very few Egyptians know this, which might be one reason why polls indicate that the United States is widely viewed negatively by the Egyptian people. 

Or perhaps some of them resent that our aid has been used – in part – to help prop up repressive governments that failed to address the persistent problems of corruption; a stagnant, state controlled economy; and few job opportunities particularly for the younger generation.

Egypt is a valued ally of the United States and we share common interests in a dangerous part of the world.  The fact that Egypt is among the largest recipients of U.S. aid illustrates this. 

But when thousands of members of political opposition groups are imprisoned after sham trials; when members of civil society organizations are falsely accused of salacious crimes and detained for years; when critics of the government are tortured and killed; and when U.S. officials and the independent press are denied access to areas where U.S. weapons are being used amid reports of war crimes, indiscriminate attacks and civilian casualties, we should ask some basic questions. 

For example:

  • What are the Egyptian Government’s intentions regarding the right of civil society organizations to function without interference?  What assurance do we have that such organizations – whether foreign or Egyptian – can carry out their work without fear of harassment and persecution?
  • If the Egyptian Government uses anti-terrorism laws to arrest and imprison members of civil society organizations because they espouse views the government disagrees with, or they expose government abuses or failures, how should the United States respond?
  • Are conditions on U.S. aid requiring “effective steps” by the Egyptian Government to protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, and to respect due process of law, useful?  If so, what message does it send when the State Department waives those conditions?
  • What purpose is our $1.3 billion in annual military aid serving?  What security threats does Egypt face today to justify this aid, is it being spent in the best way, or is it simply regarded as an entitlement dating back to Camp David?
  • Are we getting the cooperation necessary from the Egyptian Government with our economic aid so it improves the lives of the Egyptian people in tangible, sustainable ways?

I think everyone here wants Egypt to become a prosperous country, governed democratically, at peace with its neighbors, and where fundamental human rights are respected.  We also want to help Egypt respond to acts of terrorism, but in a manner that is consistent with international law.  And we want to see those who violate human rights brought to justice.

To achieve those goals, the Egyptian Government needs to want them at least as much as we do.  Otherwise, I think we should ask ourselves what needs to change. 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on such an important issue.

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