In the tumultuous two years since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt came to power, one ally has kept the Arab world’s most populous country from economic ruin: Saudi Arabia pumped more than $25 billion into the faltering Egyptian economy, dwarfing aid from the United States. The Saudis may have thought they were buying loyalty. But Egypt’s vote last month for a Russian United Nations resolution on Syria threatens to unravel Mr. Sisi’s relationship with Egypt’s most crucial benefactor, The New York Times reports:
“The relationship is based on a kind of asymmetric passive-aggressive perpetual renegotiation,” said Issandr El Amrani, the North Africa project director for the International Crisis Group, on the respected Arabist blog. What Egypt is saying, in effect, is: ‘I am an unreliable, disrespectful client that openly takes you for granted and jibes against you at every possible turn, but I know you will eventually come back to me because you are more afraid of my weakness and nuisance capacity than of my potential strength. So when is that next check coming?’”
But Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University, said Saudi Arabia will not stop bankrolling Mr. Sisi’s government because it needs him to prevent Egypt from descending into chaos at the Saudis’ border. He noted that the Saudis deposited $2 billion into Egypt’s central bank just days after halting the oil shipment last month.
Ending democracy assistance as part of the bilateral program between the US and Egypt, and instead supporting genuine, independent pro-democracy organizations and individuals through more arms-length funding, and through high-level diplomatic advocacy for human rights and democratic values; is one of the recommendations of a new report from the Project on Middle East Democracy, Rethinking U.S. Economic Aid to Egypt, by POMED Deputy Director for Research Amy Hawthorne.
It was only a few months ago that the security services, in response to the torture and killing of the Italian student Giulio Regeni in January of this year, announced that they had shot dead all five members of the criminal gang that had allegedly committed the act, offering as proof that they had found with the gang the passport and other personal items belonging to the Italian. A few days later, after the Italian government dismissed the announcement as a cover-up by the Egyptian authorities and reiterated its demand that they cease disseminating false information, the Interior Ministry backtracked, stating that the dead criminals were not implicated in the Regeni case. Such is the debasing of the truth in present-day Egypt.
POMED is a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.