Foreign Policy Blogs

Conditionality Confusion

The Obama Administration’s refusal to condition Egypt’s military aid on political and human rights reform is congruent with Bush Administration’s policy. It is a good move, aimed at maintaining the strategic relationship.
In interviews in Egypt, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates have both gone on record as opposing conditions as a matter of policy. Secretary Rice stated the same policy during her term as Secretary of State in an October 2007 letter to Nancy Pelosi, arguing that “Conditioning any portion of FMF could cause grave damage to U.S. national security interests.”

The Bush Administration lobbied for political reform in Egypt in a very public manner. Unfortunately, its lofty rhetoric produced unrealistic expectations among Egyptians that only highlighted the Bush Administration’s eventual failures. It also alienated the Mubarak regime. Notably, the political dissident Ayman Nour was released only after President Bush left office. That was no coincidence, as President Mubarak became only more intransigent on the reform front as Bush continued to vilify him in public.

The Washington Post, therefore, may want to rethink criticism over the Obama Administration rejecting conditions on military funding. Conditioning military aid will harm the military relationship and make the Mubarak regime dig in its heals against reform. But they are right to lament an accompanying reduction in democracy funding. The best way to support long-term liberalization in Egypt is to support civil organizations quietly from below and pressure the government privately from the top. Let’s hope that President Obama does so, privately and forcefully, when President Mubarak visits Washington at the end of this month.



Matthew Axelrod

Mr. Axelrod most recently researched the US-Egypt defense relationship in Cairo on a Fulbright grant, after serving as the Country Director for Egypt and North Africa in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 2005-2007. He entered the government as a Presidential Management Fellow, rotating through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the U.S. Embassy in Egypt, and the Pentagon. He graduated from Georgetown University in 2003 with a BS in Foreign Service and an MA in Arab Studies.