Do as We Say, Not as We Do: The Decision Not to Extend Further Aid to Egypt Was Part of the US Administration's Effort to Expand Free Speech and Democracy to Islamic Countries, Says the White House and Not a Retaliatory Move for Egypt's Lack of Support for American Plans to Attack Iraq. (Egypt)

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In a surprising shift, the Bush administration announced that it would oppose any additional aid to Egypt in protest at its persecution of human rights campaigner Saad Eddin Ibrahim (see TME September 2002). By linking the suspension of an additional $130 million loan to the human rights performance of its long time Arab ally, the Bush administration took an abrupt about-turn in its relationship with Egypt. Why, and what caused this abrupt souring of relations is now a subject of intense speculation, especially following President Mubarak's recent visit to the White House where he was hailed as "America's partner in the Middle East."

"The Ibrahim case makes it `impossible' for the administration to contemplate extra monies for Egypt and President Bush will so advise President Hosni Mubarak in writing of his decision," a White House official announced in a surprisingly blunt statement. To air such a rebuff publicly was bad enough, but to do so even before President Bush had notified Mr Mubarak personally only added salt to the wound. "Other existing aid programmes will not be affected," the US official went on ominously. "Egypt's annual $2 billion allocation is not in danger." The personal relationship between President Hosni Mubarak and President Bush has been sorely tested in the past few months. Bush's insistence that Yasser Arafat must be replaced as leader of the Palestinian people, plus his determination to invade Iraq in pursuit of "regime change" has caused a serious separation of interests. Egypt, like many of America's Arab allies, wanted the Palestinian/Israeli conflict settled before any more military adventures in the region were undertaken. This viewpoint was in direct contrast to that expressed by Vice-President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice who sees no connection between the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the elimination of Saddam Hussein. The president's letter, when it is sent, will be of purely symbolic value. The Mubarak government had been lobbying for the extra $130 million after Congress voted to disburse an additional $200 million in anti-terrorism funds to Israel. Citing the 1978 Camp David formula, whereby any increase in Israeli funds automatically results in new allocations to Egypt, the Mubarak government claimed what it believed to be its right under past agreements. But it seems all such bets are off. "It's no longer business as usual," Neil Hicks, an Egypt specialist at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights said. "The past tells us that this doesn't work and the democratic space in Egypt has been shrinking to a dangerous extent."

Egypt's response to Mr Bush's public sleight was immediate. "The threat of withholding funds will not influence Egyptian courts, or make President Mubarak move any faster on democratic reforms," an official said the following day, reiterating that the seven year sentence for embezzlement handed down on Professor Ibrahim by the Egyptian court could not be tampered with. …