This weekend, a conference on fostering democracy in the Middle East was held in Bahrain with foreign ministers from the Middle East, the G-8, and others. This conference, set in motion by the US, was intended to culminate in the adoption of a plan to support democracy in the Middle East, including financial backing to democratic groups. At the last minute Egypt demanded wording that would give the state the power to decide what democratic groups would receive funding, co-opting the entire point of the plan to encourage the growth of democracy without interference.
With Egypt as the second highest recipient of US foreign aid, being second only to Israel, one has to wonder if this is truly money well spent. While aid has been essential in establishing peace between Israel and Egypt and keeping some calm in the Middle East, we have to wonder how effective our relationship with Egypt really is. The sinking of this weekend’s Middle Eastern democracy initiative raises the question of whether or not so much financial aid should be given to Egypt if it is not willing to cooperate with international democratic initiatives in the region. All other states at the summit were willing to adopt the plan as it stood, even other states which had supported Egypt’s desire for control of the money being filtered into democratic groups ultimately dropped this request and were willing to adopt the document. Egypt has previously shown its unwillingness to be fully cooperative with those seeking democracy in the Middle East, refusing to allow international observers for their recent “multi-party” elections. With support for democracy being a pre-condition for US aid and support in other states across the globe, perhaps stricter requirements or less support should be imposed on Egypt.
It is now a US value to see democracy spread, however it seems a higher priority value to have allies in the fight against terrorism. Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia among others are examples of such relationships. With Egypt having been considerably cooperative in the US-led charge against global terrorism, it seems likely that no matter how much foot dragging and difficulty Egypt should kick up in the US-led initiative for democracy in the Middle East, we won’t be willing to threaten to tighten the purse strings. For now we’re getting support where we need it most from Egypt, combating terrorism, and as long as such cooperation continues, we will likely be wiling to overlook Egypt’s transgressions against democracy. While I am not advocating cutting Egypt off, I believe it would be best to play hardball with Egypt and threaten reduced aid if it continues to threaten democratic initiatives and openness in the region. If we continue to allow our friends to co-opt our values and initiatives, we will continue to lose legitimacy in the international community and especially in the Middle East were we so desperately need to fix our tarnished image.