CAIRO: Egypt continues to reject any conditions attached to the annual US aid package and insists on non-interference in internal affairs.
Last month, the US Congress decided to freeze $100 million in aid to Egypt until US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could ascertain that Egypt was doing enough to prevent the smuggling of arms into the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The decision stirred a storm of antagonism between Egypt, the US and Israel as accusations flew back and forth.
“Israel’s inability to protect its border with Gaza is the reason for this and they are just trying to transfer this failure to Egypt. They have tried everything to no avail. The Israeli political elite is still dominated by those who don’t recognize the need to grant Palestinians minimal rights or that a peace must be comprehensive to be long-lasting, Mohammed Fathy El-Shazli, former assistant foreign minister, told Daily News Egypt.
“As for the tunnels, we are constantly uncovering them, he added.While El-Shazli conceded that the red lines regarding foreign involvement in domestic affairs have faded, this was one case where the transgression needed to be rejected outright.
“What is considered as purely domestic affairs has changed over the years, he said. “Today, there is an international consensus that certain transgressions on internal affairs are more accepted.
“However.I totally refuse [placing] any conditions on aid because you are subverting the national will.
The ambassador also felt that because Egypt’s economy is experiencing unprecedented growth – which he agrees has not yet been felt across the board – donor countries would look into taking their grants elsewhere.
“We know that the US aid will end eventually, and it depreciates every year subject to an earlier agreement. Many donor countries will look at modifying their grants because Egypt’s economic indicators show it doesn’t need aid as much as it used to.
“There are now other countries that might need it more. We have always been aware that it is temporary. So, on principal, to lose our dignity for this aid is not worth it. El-Shazli said.
On Sunday, President Hosni Mubarak met with US Congressman Steve Israel, who is on the House Appropriations Committee, the body responsible for allocating US spending. The congressman also met with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Saturday.
After the meeting, a foreign ministry statement said Aboul Gheit “reaffirmed the Egyptian stance that rejects any conditions or external imperatives that aim at affecting its decisions or visions as well as its way of dealing with internal and external developments.
Aboul Gheit placed the onus on the US officials in a television interview on Sunday, where he stated that Egypt awaits the official position of the US administration on the partial suspension of aid.
According to the Foreign Minister, Rice has been loath to attach any conditions on aid to Egypt, fearing it would sour the normally excellent relations between the two countries.
The Foreign Relations Committee in the Peoples’ Assembly reiterated this stance in a meeting held to discuss this issue. Committee head Moustafa El-Feqi said, “Egypt is an independent country that makes its own decisions and no one can dictate terms on it, reported the official Middle East News Agency.
Egypt has put the blame squarely on Israel for influencing US Congress to freeze aid, accusing Israel of negatively affecting its relationship with the US. Aboul Gheit previously said, “The latest months have seen the Israeli lobby’s efforts to harm Egypt’s interests with Congress. The Israeli lobby inside Congress was behind some positions adopted by Congress and the Israeli media campaign in the last few months falls within this trend.
Israel often complains that Egypt is not doing enough to prevent smuggling through tunnels underneath the border. Egypt however often announces the discovery of tunnels, with five being discovered and closed last Saturday.
Egypt says that it needs more troops to guard the border as the number of troops on the border with Israel is severely reduced – subject to a ceasefire agreement between the two sides.
American aid to Egypt totals almost $2 billion annually, with economic assistance now at $415 million, down from $815 million due to a depreciatory agreement signed in 1998. However, the $1.3 billion in military aid remains as it is.