Critics question billions in aid routed back to US contractors

By Farah Stockman Globe Staff / February 3, 2011

WASHINGTON — United States taxpayers have funneled more than $60 billion of aid into Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, but more than half of the money has been spent supplying weapons to the country’s military, an arrangement that critics say has benefited American military contractors more than ordinary Egyptians.

 

About $34 billion of the aid to Egypt has come in the form of grants that Congress requires Egypt to spend on American military hardware, according to statistics from the Congressional Research Service. Those contracts include helicopter engines built by GE Aviation in Lynn and transmitters for Egypt’s Navy built by Raytheon in Tewksbury.

“Egypt has a real need for foreign aid, but not the kind of foreign aid they are getting,’’ said Geoffrey Wawro, history professor and director of the Military History Center at the University of North Texas. “They need more butter than guns. They need development aid, but development aid does not serve as a stimulus plan for American factories.’’

Military aid to Egypt became a cornerstone of US foreign policy in 1979, when Egypt signed a landmark peace deal with Israel that bought some measure of stability in the tumultuous region.

But in recent years the large amount of aid earmarked for the military, and the relatively low sums supporting civilian aid, have attracted scathing criticism from Egyptians, some of whom argue that US aid has gone to entrench a military dictator at the expense of the fledgling democracy activists.

Now that protesters have taken to the streets in Egypt against Mubarak’s regime, questions are being raised about whether the massive aid package — and the emphasis on military support — should continue under whatever government comes next in Cairo.

Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a Democrat who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is among those who have called on Congress to focus more on providing support to ordinary Egyptians civilians, and require more accountability for the military aid.

“Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt, as well as guarantee that American military assistance is accomplishing its goals,’’ he wrote in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Times.

The Egyptian military, which has close ties to the Pentagon, appears to remain a popular institution in Egypt and there is no evidence that tanks have fired on protesters. But during the early turmoil, protesters were the target of tear gas canisters that read “made in the USA,’’ fueling debate about the aid.

Edward Djerejian, a former senior State Department official whose specialty was the Middle East, said the special military relationship with Egypt should continue, as long as a new government abides by democratic process and respects its international obligations, including the peace treaty with Israel.Continued…

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