Egypt and American Foreign Assistance, 1952-1956: Hopes Dashed

Article excerpt

Egypt and American Foreign Assistance, 1952-1956: Hopes Dashed, by Jon B. Alterman. New York and London, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. xxiv +134 pages. Notes to p. 176. Bibl. to p. 194. Index to p. 200. $55.

Reviewed by Ray Takeyh

The subject of US-Egyptian relations during the turbulent 1950s has been a perennial preoccupation of historians. Despite such exhaustive examination, there are still shadows to illuminate and ambiguities to clarify. Jon Alterman's Egypt and American Foreign Assistance, 1952-1956: Hopes Dashed draws attention to a neglected dimension of this period, the question of economic assistance as a tool of US foreign policy. Although this slim monograph does not alter the demarcations of the debate, it does contain its own share of insights.

On the surface there should have been a coincidence of interests between the Eisenhower Administration and the Egyptian Free Officers movement that assumed power in 1952. Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir and his Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) arrived in power with a determination to rationalize Egypt's economic institutions and more equitably distribute the national wealth. Alterman carefully dissects reams of Egyptian memorandums and internal studies that advanced the imperative of economic modernization for Egypt's new rulers. In the meantime, a central tenet of America's Cold War policy was addressing issues of poverty and under-development, which provided an avenue for Soviet entry into the Third World. So, what went wrong? Alterman notes correctly that American bureaucratic inflexibility and the RCC's suspicion of external powers hampered many well-intentioned initiatives, ranging from rural improvement projects to the august Aswan Dam.

However, a persistent problem with this monograph is absence of context. Alterman is determined to explore the deliberations of mid-level officials while displaying a measure of indifference toward high politics. The problem with this analysis is that much of America's aid policy was conditioned by the much-disdained high politics, as Eisenhower viewed assistance as a means of compelling Nasir's support for key US initiatives. Issues such as Egypt's approach to the US-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace plan (Alpha), the evolving nature of the Arab Cold War, the ebbs and flows of the Anglo-American alliance and domestic political considerations ultimately determined whether Cairo was to be a recipient of American munificence. A disregard for power politics leads the author to treat many critical influences on Egyptian-American dynamic in a cursory and superficial manner.

For Alterman, the relationship between the US and Egypt ultimately went sour because American policymakers were unable to take advantage of Free Officers' pragmatism. …