In a time of required fiscal austerity and responsibility, now should be a time for us to take a long hard look at where our foreign aid goes. United States foreign assistance has long been an instrument for good, while having the added benefit of protecting U.S. national security interests worldwide and Americans at home and abroad. However, the U.S. does not have an unending stream of money for the government to spend unconditionally, especially in the trying economic times this country has seen over the last five years.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to justify sending hard-earned American taxpayer dollars to foreign governments, especially those that do not share our interests or values, while our own government continues to overspend, running up trillion dollar deficits every year and adding more and more to our ever-increasing, unsustainable national debt.
Since the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, Egypt has been one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, averaging more than $2 billion per year. The Egyptian government has never been an ideal partner, but it has provided us with important benefits, such as priority access to the Suez Canal for our military vessels and a guarantee that Egypt will honor its peace with our friend and ally, the democratic Jewish State of Israel.
But since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and the ascendancy of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to leadership, the dynamics have shifted.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology is incompatible with our values of democracy and human rights. Morsi routinely violates basic freedoms, assaults his own people, stifles free press, and continues to suppress his opposition — consisting mostly of religious and ethnic minorities. To this day, we are still witnessing clashes between the Morsi regime and the people in the streets of Egypt, still yearning for the goals of their January 2011 revolution to be met. Many have died needlessly since the beginning of the 2011 revolution while Morsi attempts to further consolidate his power.
The American people have every right to question the recent announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry that the U.S. is ready to hand out another $250 million to Morsi. With a still struggling economy, and our nation potentially facing billions of dollars in cuts across the government, it is unfathomable that the administration is willing to fork over millions in taxpayer money, unconditionally, to the unstable, unpredictable, and yet to be trusted Morsi government.
Secretary Kerry missed an important opportunity last week during his visit to Egypt to tell the Egyptian people that the United States stands firmly behind their cause of freedom and democracy, and it would no longer continue to assist Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood as long as it continued its wanton disregard for the rule of law, basic human rights of its citizens, and its mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities.
Instead, what he told the people of Egypt is that on “behalf of President Obama and the American people, I’m here to listen and to better understand how we can help.” Clearly, he didn’t listen too closely. It should have come as no surprise to him that key members of the opposition refused to meet him while in Cairo. These kinds of signals will only foment an anti-American viewpoint among the opposition leaders, when they feel America has abandoned them and their desire for democracy in favor of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
We can no longer provide economic aid without conditions to governments like Egypt. That is why earlier this year I introduced H.R. 416 — the Egypt Accountability and Democracy Promotion Act — that would cut off aid to Egypt unless it meets certain criteria that is in the interests of our national security. And I hope to work with my colleagues to ensure that we continue to re-evaluate all of our foreign assistance programs to ensure maximum return.
Morsi’s actions clearly show that the Muslim Brotherhood-led government is not interested in bringing true democracy to Egypt. They hastily drafted a constitution that incorporates Sharia law, leaving out crucial protections for ethnic and religious minorities.
The regime remains unabashed over its crackdown on human rights. A number of human rights organizations claim that the conditions are even worse now than they were during Mubarak’s reign. With Morsi calling Jews “bloodsuckers . . . descendants of apes and pigs” as well as other anti-Semitic, anti-Israel remarks, one can’t help but question the government’s true intentions.
Instead of aiding the Morsi regime, the U.S. should instead spend that money on building and sustaining civil society programs and funding institutions that will promote democratic values and the rule of law in Egypt. The U.S. government must send a clear message indicating our commitment to advancing the cause of freedom and human dignity, while also defending our security interest abroad.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican representing the 27th district in Florida, is chairman emeritus of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and current chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.