State Dept. memo excuses Islamist Egyptian gov’t, clears path for $1.3 billion in aid

Jason Howerton | Contributor

As the U.S. State Department prepares to waive democracy requirements and release as much as $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt, a new Gallup poll shows that the majority of Egyptians would rather cozy up to countries like Iran and Turkey than embrace the United States.

Congress passed legislation in 2011 that tied funding in Egypt to progress on democracy and human rights issues. The law, however, also included a waiver provision that allows the state department to overlook the requirement if it is necessary for “national security interests.”

According to the poll, released Friday, 56 percent of Egyptian adults view “closer relations” with the U.S. as a bad thing for the country. That number is up from 40 percent in December. Just 28 percent of Egyptians now believe closer relations with the U.S. would be good for Egypt.

That 28 percent number compares poorly with the 60 percent who favored closer relations with Turkey and 40 percent who said the same about Iran. And among those three countries, Egyptians most strongly disapprove of the leadership in Washington. America received a 65 percent disapproval rating, worse even than Iran’s 58 percent.

The poll is just the latest indicator of the growing disconnect between the United States and Egypt, where the majority of the country’s parliamentary seats are now held by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fundamentalist Islamist group hoping to shape Egypt’s political future.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday submitted a memorandum of justification for waiving the democracy requirements for aid to Egypt. A copy was acquired by The Daily Caller.

“The Government of Egypt has taken many vital steps in support of a transition to civilian rule, in particular, conducting parliamentary elections widely considered at free and fair and transferring legislative authority to the People’s Assembly on January 23,” Clinton wrote.

“Egypt’s successful transition to democracy is in the national security interest of the United States. It provides the most promising path toward a strong and stable Egypt and a beneficial relationship with the United States.”

NEXT: Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote law requiring Egypt’s “progress,” disagrees with Clinton

The decision to send funding to Egypt amid the current Middle East turmoil has proven controversial.

Even Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the main sponsor of legislation passed in 2011 that made funding for Egypt dependent on progress in democracy and human rights, was unhappy to see Clinton push a waiver through.

“I have enormous respect for Secretary Clinton and the superb job she does for our country. On this issue, however, we disagree,” Leahy said in a statement.

“Waiving the new conditions on democracy and human rights is regrettable. … Using this waiver authority, at this time, sends a contradictory message. The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy.”

Texas Republican Rep. Kay Granger, who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, said she too was “disappointed” in the decision to issue a partial waiver of restrictions on aid to Egypt.

“I am disappointed by the timing of the Secretary’s decision to issue a partial waiver of restrictions on FMF funds for Egypt while the Egyptian government’s transition is ongoing,” she said in a statement. “The State Department needs to make the case that waiving the conditions is in the national security interest of the United States. I expect the Secretary to follow the law and consult the Appropriations Committee before any funds are transferred.”

Florida Republican Rep. Gus Bilirakis, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, agreed. “[I]t is unacceptable to provide unconditioned taxpayer dollars and military aid to a country that disregards the basic principles of human rights and religious freedom,” Bilirakis said in a statement.

“These conditions should remain in place until the government can demonstrate its respect for the human rights of minority religious communities and security for their worship.”

However, some agree with State that continuing funding is in the best interest of the United States, even if Egypt’s future is up in the air.

“I support Secretary Clinton’s decision to release previously appropriated funds to the Egyptian military,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. “While recent developments in Egypt are unnerving, to say the least, I do believe it is in our national security interests to provide assistance to the Egyptian military.”

On Monday several liberal Egyptian politicians quit a 100-person committee in charge of writing a new constitution there, complaining that roughly 70 or more of the members were either “independent Islamists or members of Islamist parities,” according to a Reuters report.

Officials from the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Gallup survey was conducted from Jan. 31 to Feb. 7 in Egypt and results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older.

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