WASHINGTON: Senior US senators were working Thursday to create special "enterprise funds" to help Egypt and Tunisia’s economies recover from revolutionary turmoil and showcase Washington’s goodwill.
Senators John Kerry, Joe Lieberman and John McCain said at a hastily called press conference that they were modeling their legislation on a hugely successful effort to help former communist countries in Europe after the Berlin Wall fell.
"We do this with the belief — shared by the administration — the belief that the United States has an historic opportunity to help these two countries, to transform the Arab awakening that has swept across their lands and transform it into a lasting rebirth that brings prosperity and democracy," said Kerry.
The Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund and the Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund would steer investment capital to existing or start-up businesses in both countries, which have seen economically vital tourism monies dry up.
Kerry, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Egyptian fund would initially have $50 million to $60 million and its Tunisian equivalent would get $10 million to $20 million with the goal of drawing in private sector capital.
McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the proposal would help US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton bring a tangible aid offer and a message that "help is on the way" during her trip to the region next week.
Both countries "are hurting very dramatically," their people are "not overjoyed" with US support for the regimes they overthrew, and the funds will show "the people of the United States are behind them," said McCain.
"We’re really seizing the moment," said Lieberman, an independent who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. He cautioned that he was "not at all naive about the fact that there’s tough times ahead" for Egypt and Tunisia.
With Republicans who control the House of Representatives seeking to slash foreign aid as part of deep spending cuts to deflate the US deficit and national debt, Lieberman warned that "we can’t afford not to" help Egypt and Tunisia.
Kerry said the message would reach well beyond the two countries, with the funds telling "people across the Arab world that the United States is willing to help them build strong economies and strong democracies."
"This is an investment in the future of the Arab world and in the future of America’s national security, and we look forward to working together to get it passed as quickly as possible," he said.
The funds would be run by seven-member boards — four from the United States, three from the recipient nations — named by President Barack Obama, said McCain.