US aid to Egypt is guaranteed by the Camp David Accords, and stopping it would be a violation of that treaty, a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker said Sunday.
Essam El-Erian, who also serves as chairman of the Egyptian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said that should aid from Washington be cut, the Brotherhood would consider changing the terms of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
El-Erian told the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat the US needs to understand that “what was acceptable before the revolution is no longer,” and that should the aid provisions outlined in the treaty be modified, it could open the door to further changes in the agreement.
A Gallup poll released last week found 71 percent of Egyptians oppose US economic aid to their country, and a similar percentage oppose Washington sending direct aid to civil society groups. Last month the US administration announced it would speed up aid to Egypt as the country copes with mounting economic problems during the transition from president Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade term in power.
Congress has already approved $1.3 billion in military aid and $250 million in civilian aid for the current fiscal year. That assistance, however, is conditioned upon Egypt meeting all of its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel. That factor that may help explain the unpopularity of US aid – the treaty is widely unpopular in Egypt, and many see the conditions on US aid as an infringement on the country’s sovereignty.
The poll found Egyptians are just as likely to support aid from fellow Arab states as they are to oppose it from the US.
But Fayza Abouelnaga, Egypt’s minister of planning and international cooperation, noted recently that her country had received only $500m. of the $3.7b. promised by Saudi Arabia, $500m. of the $1.5b. pledged by Qatar and none of the $3b. promised by the United Arab Emirates. Abouelnaga said in December that Egypt’s foreign debt had reached $34.4b., representing 15% of its gross domestic product.
Half of respondents said they would be willing to accept aid from international institutions. Last week, Egypt’s military and political leaders initially rejected an offer of $3.2b. in support from the International Monetary Fund, but later said they had changed their minds.
The country’s current economic problems are daunting.
A Gallup poll conducted in December found Egyptians naming inflation and lack of money as their biggest economic problems; second is lack of jobs. Tourism – which employs 12% of Egypt’s workforce – has slowed to a trickle since anti-Mubarak protests began over a year ago. In that period Egypt has gone through three finance ministers.
On Saturday the top US military officer met Egypt’s ruling generals in Cairo to discuss the case of US pro-democracy activists charged in an investigation that has strained ties between Cairo and Washington.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the first senior US official to visit Cairo since the charges were brought against 43 foreign and Egyptian activists following a probe into civil society groups.
The case has put a deep strain on relations with Washington, which counted Egypt as a close strategic ally under ousted Mubarak and supplies Cairo with an annual $1.3b. in military aid. Both the US Congress and the White House have said the investigation could threaten the aid.
In signs the dispute could worsen, Egyptian authorities detained an Australian journalist and an American student on Saturday on suspicion they had distributed cash to workers and incited them to take part in a strike called by activists demanding an end to army rule.
US military aid to Egypt accounts for about 25% of Egypt’s defense spending per year. Egypt’s defense budget was $4.56b. in 2010 – the third-largest in the Middle East after Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Reuters contributed to this report.