Scobey: No change to Egypt’s military aid

In a press conference on Saturday, US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey reiterated that no revisions will be made to the US-Egyptian security partnership.

Egypt’s military receives US$1.3 billion in support from the US in the framework of a security partnership initiated after the signing of the Camp David peace accords with Israel in 1979. As well as the historic partnership remaining intact, the US has pledged economic assistance and debt swaps to support the country’s emerging democracy.

“We believe US security assistance to Egypt has been a partnership that advanced peace and security in the region,” Scobey said. “It’s not that we agree on everything. This has never been the case.”

Recurrent reports of human rights violations perpetrated by the military, which is currently implementing rule of law in Egypt, had prompted questions on whether this could affect US support.

“We don’t believe that the use of military detentions and military courts for civilians is the best way to proceed. We also raised the issue of the emergency decrees that should be lifted. We understand from the military that it will be lifted before the parliamentary elections,” said Scobey.

Scobey said that budget changes are subject to congressional decisions, but there is no intention to change the agreement.

In the meantime, Scobey indicated that President Barack Obama’s recent pledge of economic assistance is centered around the support of the private sector as well as broad economic integration.

Obama pledged to provide a US$2 billion enterprise fund to support private investment in the region and particularly Egypt, modeled after the funds that supported transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The mobilization of international financial organizations’ investments in Egypt brings to mind the practices of bodies such as the International Monetary Fund. Since 2004, the latter has engaged in public-private partnerships and broader economic adjustments programs, which, in the context of prevalent crony capitalism, was conducive to a process of wealth redistribution only on a top level.

The uprising earlier this year, however, was pushed primarily by a quest for social justice.

“There were some reforms in the last years, but opportunity was not broad enough,” said Scobey. “That’s why we want to focus on small and medium enterprises and on creating jobs from bottom up, as well as [the creation] of regulatory structures that protect investments. We want economic opportunity to be open to all and to invest in the labor force through training and education.”

Debt relief was another pledge Obama gave during his 19 May speech on Middle East and North African affairs. Obama said that the US will relieve Egypt of US$1 billion in debt, which should instead be invested in “growth and entrepreneurship.” Egypt’s debt to the US amounts to US$3.6 billion and dates back to the 1970s. Its full relief has been the subject of congressional debate.

“We’re putting together a proposal for the Egyptian government with details on how to relieve Egypt of its debts in the next three years,” Scobey said. She added that the proposal will be put forward regardless of the results of the Egyptian parliamentary elections scheduled for this year, although due to the time it will take to secure the consent of congress, implementation will not take place before 2012.

On the question of the illegally attained assets of Egypt's former regime figures, Scobey said that there is an ongoing conversation between embassy officers, the US Justice Department and the Egyptian authorities. “We are prepared to respond to any queries. We’re also bound by international conventions. There is no definite confirmation on what assets are present in the US. But there are possible leads.”

When asked what the administration’s reaction would be if an amnesty is granted to former president Hosni Mubarak, Scobey said, “We have a history of pardoning people. We did it with [President Richard] Nixon. But it’s Egyptians who have to work this out.”

Scobey also took the opportunity to announce the White House's nomination for the next ambassador to Egypt, namely Anne W. Patterson, who most recently served as US ambassador to Pakistan. The process is pending senate's confirmation.

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