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Egyptian media angry over conditions in US aid bill

BBC Monitoring

By Muhammad Shukri of BBC Monitoring on 17 July

    A recent bill passed by the US House of Representatives setting conditions on the payment of 200m of 1.3bn billion dollars the USA annually gives Egypt in military aid has drawn angry reactions from Egyptian official and independent media.

    The bill, which was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on 12 June and passed in a vote on 22 June, stipulates that Egypt should improve its human rights record, reform its judicial system and destroy tunnels allegedly used for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

     The bill has seen official and independent media close ranks against the USA, a few days after they were at loggerheads over the results of the Shura Council (upper house of parliament) mid-term polls, which independent media reported had been widely rigged in favour of the ruling party. The draft law has, however, been a good opportunity for independent media to take the Egyptian government to task over its stance on the US aid.


Official media

    Pro-government newspapers have unanimously viewed the bill as "interference" in Egypt's internal affairs.

     In a commentary in the pro-government Al-Jumhuriyah on 16 June, Muhammad Ali Ibrahim, the paper's chief editor, took a swipe at the USA over the bill, describing the strings attached to the payment of the withheld 200m dollars of the aid as "flagrant interference in Egypt's internal affairs". He also pointed to a US intention to "undermine the capabilities of the Egyptian armed forces in the service of other forces", in reference to Israel.

     A day earlier, 15 June, Al-Jumhuriyah carried a front-page main headline quoting Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu-al-Ghayt as saying that "conditional foreign aid is rejected" and "Egypt does not accept to relinquish its sovereignty or bargain over its independent decision-making".

     On 16 June, the chief editor of the pro-government Al-Akhbar, Mumtaz al-Qut, described the aid issue as "a perpetual seasonal debate" that was always renewed "when something new erupts in the Middle East, and with every failure of George Bush's policies". He accused Bush of being "devoid of all political credentials", a reason why, according to Al-Qut, Bush is not able to "realize that this [bill] amounts to interference and flagrant trespassing in the internal affairs of some countries".

     Al-Qut stressed that the aid "is not a grant" but rather "a contractual obligation that has become a fact after Egypt had signed the peace treaty with Israel [in 1979]". Al-Qut added: "If Egypt always backed Washington's policies and agreed with them, things, certainly, would have been different." "What can we expect from a president who has made his country inflict immense losses and commit scores of crimes, crimes against humanity in Afghanistan, Iraq, Abu Ghurayb prison, Guantanamo Bay prison, and other secret prisons in European countries in the name of the fight against terrorism?", he wondered.

     In a commentary in the semi-official Al-Ahram on 20 June, Salah-al-Din Hafiz described the bill as "blackmail", drawing a link between it and Egypt's regional role. He said that the USA expected Egypt to "rush to its support" after "many files have caught fire in the region", but Egypt's response was either "concealed rejection" or "a polite apology with no desire to reach the level of a direct clash".

     Egypt's official news agency, MENA, on 15 June carried an exclusive statement from Egyptian Ambassador to the USA Nabil Fahmi in which he stressed that the US aid to Egypt "is not an endowment" but "investment of US interests in the Middle East region". Fahmi affirmed that Egypt would not accept "any foreign interference", and that what he described as "arm-twisting policy" was "rejected".

     In its commentary on 9 July, Egyptian radio reminded the USA that Egypt's role in solving regional problems was still "strong and irreplaceable". The commentary also highlighted President Husni Mubarak's affirmation that "Egypt does not submit to foreign pressure that might harm its security and dignity".


Independent media

    In a commentary in the independent daily Al-Misri al-Yawm on 22 June, Muhammad Salmawi criticized the US condition that Egypt should improve its human rights record. He said: "The US Administration has many tools [to use] if it really wants its allies to respect human rights, at the forefront of which is to set a good example to its allies in this regard."

     On 12 July, Yusri al-Sayyid wrote a relevant commentary in the independent daily Nahdat Misr. He said that the aid "is designed to serve American rather than Egyptian interests." He also described the aid "as a White House sword" that is "put on our necks to force us to be a flexible tool that supports its aggressive policies in the region".

     Egyptian private Dream 2 TV's "Fi al-Mamnu" (About the Prohibited) programme on 8 July interviewed Ambassador Muhammad Basyuni, the head of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee at the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, to comment on the topic. Basyuni criticized what he termed as the US "double standard" with regard to the value of military aid given to Egypt as compared with Israel, which receives larger US aid. Israel currently receives 2.4bn dollars a year in aid from Washington. Reminding the USA of its need for Egypt's regional role, Basyuni said: "The USA's need for Egypt is growing. It cannot do without it in the next stage. We are the symbol of stability in the region."


Independent media criticize government

    The Egyptian government's stance on the US aid has received a lot of criticism in the independent press. In a commentary in the independent weekly Al-Usbu on 23 June, Iman Ma'mun wondered whether "will we continue to kiss the hand of the US master every year and please him at the expense of our interests and dignity, or is it time for us to become as we were before when we boycotted the US aid during the era of the eternal [late] leader Jamal Abd-al-Nasir?" She added: "Enough of the humiliation and submission we have achieved over many past years."

     On 27 June, Khalid Salah commented on the same topic in the independent daily Al-Masri al-Yawm. He wondered: "If the government is against the aid and hates the arrogance shown by the [US] Congress towards Egyptian sovereignty, why does it not stand upright with pride, stop bowing, raise up its head in front of the White House and reject even one more US cent in the state public budget?" He added: "The authority is deceiving us deliberately with bad intentions, as its men solicit aid from Washington and then urge their hypocrites in Cairo to curse the Americans day and night."

     In a commentary in the independent daily Al-Dustur on 10 July, Ibrahim Mansur said: "Everyone knows that the US aid is provided on conditions, with which the Egyptian regime complies." "Although many of the US conditions are unjust to the Egyptian people, the regime carries them out, feeling at ease as long as it stays in power", he added.

     In a commentary on the independent Al-Misriyun website, www.almesryoon.com, on 1 July, Ashraf Muhammad Dawwabah wrote: "The elimination of one corruption case in Egypt can spare Egypt the need to stretch out its hand and succumb to the conditions of this aid." He added that "Egypt does not lack resources" but lacks "a good example, clean hands, good use of resources and fair distribution [of wealth]". "Is it time for us to be weaned off the US aid, renounce the culture of subordination and abide by our Islamic values as well as depend on ourselves and our resources?" he concluded.

    Source: BBC Monitoring research 17 Jul 07



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