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WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) proposed an amendment today to the FY 2006 Foreign Operations Appropriations bill during the Full Committee markup, which would mirror a change adopted by the House International Relations Committee two weeks ago in the State Department Authorization bill.
The amendment would shift 3 percent of Egypt’s military assistance to economic assistance, increasing the economic assistance (Economic Support Fund or ESF) account by nearly 10 percent or $40 million. In addition, the amendment directed the interest accrued by Egypt through the early deposit of its Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds be dedicated to civil society building programs.
Hoyer withdrew the amendment after strongly stating his intention to “continue to raise this issue” and his understanding that Ranking Member Obey had an amendment that was more acceptable to the majority that would also “move us towards a similar goal.”
Below is Mr. Hoyer’s statement from the Committee Mark-up.
“As the subcommittee notes in its report accompanying this bill, ‘continued military cooperation between Egypt and the United States remains in the national security interests of both countries.’ I do not dispute the need to continue our military cooperation with Egypt, and to honor our commitment under the Camp David accords, but for several years I have been very concerned about the level of military support we provide Egypt, at the expense of additional economic assistance.
“Egypt has one of the largest and most modern militaries in the Middle East, with approximately $2.4 billion in annual defense spending. More than half of this funding, $1.3 billion is provided by the United States.
“At the same time, nearly one out of five Egyptians live in poverty, roughly half of Egypt’s adults are illiterate, unemployment is in double figures, and the country has a per capita income of just $700 per year. Furthermore, only 3% of Egypt’s land is arable, making the country unable to feed itself and forcing it to import roughly two thirds of its food.
“In this context, I am concerned that the United States continues to provide almost three times the amount of military assistance to Egypt that we provide in economic assistance -- $1.3 billion to $495 million in this bill.
“Regional stability and the efforts to stem the development of terrorist organizations are served not only by providing for Egypt’s military strength, but also by ensuring prosperity and economic opportunities for the people of Egypt. We should recognize this and increase our economic support for Egypt, rather than decreasing it, as this bill does by $40 million from last year’s level. This downward trend in economic assistance to Egypt is a mistake, and continued exposure to unemployment and poverty will only foster anti-American sentiment among the Egyptian people.
“It also troubling that this military assistance benefits a government the U.S. State Department has criticized for ‘prosecut(ing) members of religious groups whose practices are deemed to deviate from mainstream Islamic beliefs, and whose activities are believed to jeopardize communal harmony.’
“And the Egyptian press, much of which is controlled by the state, has been full of anti-Semitic, anti-western and anti-Christian incitement. The Anti-Defamation League has catalogued more than 100 instances of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the Egyptian press just this year, including the following example:
‘Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, will participate in the opening of the new Holocaust museum tomorrow (March 16, 2005) in Israel… the goal of the museum's founding is to continue the Israeli series of robbing the world by the alleged massacres of the Jews in Europe…’ – News item in Al-Wafd, March 15, 2005
“My amendment would make a sensible and small change in the ration of our assistance to Egypt, a change adopted by the House International Relations Committee two weeks ago in the State Department Authorization bill. I simply propose that the committee shift 3 percent of Egypt’s military assistance to economic assistance. The $40 million would increase the ESF account by nearly 10 percent, and would have a meaningful impact on the lives of average Egyptians.
“Furthermore, as the International Relations Committee directed in their bill, I propose that the interest accrued by Egypt through the early deposit of its FMF funds be dedicated to civil society building programs ranging from economic development and poverty reduction to implementing political, educational and health reforms.
“Egypt is an important ally in the region, but one about which I have many concerns, and I believe this amendment is a reasonable, and small step toward encouraging positive changes that will benefit the people of Egypt and better contribute to our national security than the funding contained in this bill.”