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Ed Ross | Monday, March 26, 2012

Critics of President Obama are condemning his administration’s decision to waive legislative restrictions related to Egypt’s democratic transition and allow Egypt’s annual Congressional appropriation of $1.3 billion in military assistance to go forward. There is much about the Obama administration’s Middle East policy to criticize; but in this case it made the right decision.

On March 23, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton certified to Congress that waiving restrictions on military assistance to Egypt was in America’s national security interests.

She said that “Egypt is meeting its obligations under its Peace Treaty with Israel,” and allowing the continued flow of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt “reflect America’s over-arching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy.”

Those who oppose this decision cite statements and actions by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood-controlled parliament.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement, and Salafists now comprise more than 70% of the Egyptian Parliament. Both houses have appointed representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood as its leaders.

On March 19, Egypt's parliament voted unanimously to expel Israel's ambassador to Egypt and signaled that the Camp David Accords would soon be a thing of the past, declaring Egypt would "never" be Israel's ally and that Israel was Egypt's "number one enemy."

With Islamists seeking to impose Sharia Law and speaking out against the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, Israel, and the United States, the Muslim Brotherhood's critics have reason for concern.

It would be a mistake at this point, however, to conflate the Muslim Brotherhood with the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF), a close and long-time friend and ally of the United States that currently stands as a buffer between growing anti-Israel forces in Egypt and Israel.

The last thing Acting Egyptian President Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi and the leadership of the EAF want are deteriorating relations with Israel that could eventually lead to a military confrontation or war.

The EAF has steadfastly maintained the peace treaty with Israel for more than 30 years. They were an ally in the First Gulf War. They exercise routinely with the U.S. armed forces. And they are dependent on U.S. military assistance.

They are struggling now to deal with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists in Egypt. Withholding U.S. military assistance from them would seriously undercut that effort and what leverage the U.S. has left with Egypt.

Such action would force the EAF to look elsewhere for military assistance and arms purchases (Russia or China), raising the specter of the days when Egypt was closely aligned with the old Soviet Union.

The Israelis know this, and I am aware of no Israeli government official that has spoken out against U.S. military aid to the EAF. Those Americans critical of the Muslim Brotherhood most likely also are strong supporters of Israel. It would be wise for them to ask why they should object if Israel doesn’t. I’m sure this is a major reason the Obama administration has moved forward on military assistance.

There is an old saying in the Middle East regarding Israel’s relations with its contiguous neighbors. “There is no peace without Syria, and there is no war (as there was in 1967 or 1973) without Egypt.”

Israel has its hands full with Hamas, Iran, and its proxy Hezbollah. Syria, for the time being, is preoccupied. Israel doesn’t need rising tension between the Israeli Defense Forces and the EAF.

When war between Israel and Iran comes, as appears likely, the last thing Israel or the U.S. wants is a hostile Egyptian government unconstrained by the EAF.

Furthermore, few people that oppose military assistance to Egypt understand how FMF works.

Egyptian FMF, which is not actual financing or loans, is cash on deposit in Egypt’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) trust fund in a U.S. bank. Once Congress approves the FMF budget and State apportions the funds by individual country, Egypt’s funds are meticulously managed by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA).

DSCA through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) authorizes payments directly to U.S. defense contractors with signed FMS cases. FMS programs are contracts between the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, or other U.S. defense agency authorized to manage FMS programs and the U.S. defense contractor providing the service or equipment. The EAF takes delivery of the defense article or service.

Stopping the $1.3 billion in FMF would cost thousands of U.S. jobs in defense plants across the country. The U.S. government should not take action to impact those jobs without compelling reasons.

The time may come when the U.S. must suspend military assistance to Egypt. If a member of the Muslim Brotherhood wins the presidency, and the Egyptian government abrogates the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, the EAF must either go along with that decision or take some action to constrain the civilian government. In either case, the U.S. administration would be hard pressed not to suspend assistance as required by U.S. law.

Now that the Egyptian people have overthrown former President Hosni Mubarak, they have embarked on a path that either will lead them to greater freedom and democracy or to an Islamist state that is democratic in form but authoritarian and theocratic at its heart.

The U.S. must do what it can to positively influence that journey down the path toward democracy. The EAF is not a democratic institution, and it's not without its flaws; but neither is it Islamist or theocratic. It is a secular institution with close ties to the United States. It's in America's best interests to maintain those ties as long as possible.


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Related Links

Once Imperiled, U.S. Aid to Egypt is Restored

Department of State Official Statement on Restoration of FMF to Egypt

Muslim Brotherhood: Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty Needs to be Reviewed

Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty

Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: Is the Presidency Next?

Sharia Law Coming Soon to Egypt

Egypt Designates Israel Its Top Enemy--Obama Restores Military Aid

Egypt Working to Prevent Iran Attacks on Israeli Targets

Egypt Military Looking to Keep its Grip at Lease on the Economy





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