Should we be reassessing aid to Egypt?
The question of aid to Egypt will also have to be reassessed now that there is a new government in power.
Egypt has been going through periods of turmoil for more than two years. The first outpourings of enthusiasm after the fall of President Mubarak were all too quickly submerged by a marked feeling of disillusion shared by a good number of activists and revolutionaries and also by a section of the population. In addition to this long and thorny path strewn with pitfalls, there is a difficult and serious social and economic situation which can be seen at every level of daily life for the more than 80 million inhabitants of this country.
Following the demonstrations on the occasion of the first anniversary of President Mohamed Morsi’s taking power, large anti-Morsi demonstrations have been held, resulting in his downfall and replacement by an interim government set up by the army. The country’s instability risks becoming permanent and many crises could still shatter political life in the next few weeks and months.
In this climate of political and social upheaval, at both national and regional levels, another issue has arisen which is somewhat different and which has been little talked about in Egypt: a report drawn up and published by the EU Auditors on European aid granted to Egypt. According to this report, aid of €1 billion has been granted to Egypt for several years ago aimed at promoting governance and other areas affecting civil society, but it has not led to the expected results. This is mainly put down to two causes: the lack of transparency in how the Egyptian authorities made use of these funds and the allocation of aid in the absence of any progress in this field!
But the obvious question arising from all this asks why support had been given to a regime that had been releasing clear messages for nearly a year, leaving no shadow of a doubt about the direction in which it wanted to steer the country. While we were witnessing a setback, or in the best of cases a standstill, in the areas of human rights, sexual harassment of women, freedom of the press, freedom of speech and of conscience, the ‘allied countries’ that were officially clamouring for more democracy and freedom might have done it all differently if their ultimate goal had indeed been democracy. But it seems that their desired goal turned out to be, once again, the stability of Egypt at all costs. And obviously that meant having resources.
Ever since the Revolution, the fate of religious minorities has increasingly deteriorated. Tension between different religious communities has been stirred up by, amongst other things, extremist speeches uttered by certain preachers broadcasting on several Muslim TV stations and media. As for civil society, in general terms, even if we are witnessing its inexorable awakening, some serious decisions and measures that are repressive and downplaying of free speech have been officially adopted (a constitutional decree approved by President Morsi in autumn 2012; approval of the new Constitution after fainthearted debate by the so-called “liberals”; a draft law aiming to establish stricter controls of NGOs; and much more in similar vein).
It is therefore hardly surprising that, in this context of dissatisfaction with the “great leap backwards” achieved in all these areas, the study carried out by the European Auditors on the billion euros granted to Egypt by the European Union should not have gone unnoticed.
While this aid granted to Egypt was mainly intended for governance and the development of programmes relating to civil society, it is all too evident that not only do the results obtained in these areas fall well short of acceptability, but also a part of this sum has been swallowed up in the maze of bureaucracy and by various ‘special funds’ that are untouchable and inaccessible, and therefore unverifiable and untraceable!
Why then do both the United States and the European Union allow themselves to be drawn into this game by not covering their backs and not taking the necessary precautions to avoid mistakes such as these? Why did they not set up supervisory measures to check the sums allocated and impose conditions on disbursing this aid?
On the contrary, it would seem that all the decisions and measures taken by the government against civil liberties, and liberties in general, had reassured and lulled all the chancelleries in the West on their path towards a self-styled “stability” in the short and medium terms.
Perhaps now would be a good moment for them to review their priorities for the medium and long terms. Be that as it may, it is evident that aid grants of any sort should be disbursed with strings attached and a stricter process of monitoring should definitely be put in place.
Doctor and lecturer on the Arab world, (Paris 8 University, Autonomous University of Madrid). Author of ‘Égypte d'une Révolution à l'autre. Politiques d'enseignements et changements sociaux’ (Egypt - from one Revolution to another. Education and social change policy) Ed. Publisud, Paris, 2013).
Translated from the original text in French