Posted by on October 01, 2012 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

2012 Fall Intern

On October 22, President Obama and Governor Romney will participate in a much-anticipated foreign policy debate. Foreign policy, in particular with regards to the Middle East, is a major platform issue for both presidential candidates, and since the Arab Spring, the U.S.-Arab relations has have become increasingly complicated. With the emergence of new democratically elected governments in countries like Tunisia and Egypt, public opinion among Arabs has shifted to reflect greater disapproval of U.S. leaders and policies in the region.

The discontent and disappointment with the Obama administration’s policies regarding in the Middle East have had various consequences, one of which is the growing Egyptian opposition to US economic aid. A poll released by Gallup in March 2012 shows that early in the year, 82% of Egyptians opposed direct U.S. aid to Egyptian civilian groups. Additionally, 52% of those polled also opposed aid from the World Bank and the IMF.

These findings correlate strongly with a poll released by AAI in 2011 regarding Arab attitudes towards U.S. policies and the promises laid out by the Obama administration in 2008 and 2009. The findings indicated that only 5% of Egyptians had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2011, compared with 30% in 2009. Also aAn equal number of those polled (65%) cited US interference in the Middle East and the continued occupation of Palestinian lands as the two major obstacles standing in the way of peace and instability in the Middle East. To further illustrate the dissatisfaction with the U.S., 90% of Egyptians disagreed that President Obama met the expectations he set in 2009 at Cairo University.

These low approval ratings have led to a desire for the Egyptian people to distance themselves from the U.S. and the West by not accepting financial aid. The opposition to U.S. aid reflects a number of failures on the part of the administration: improving U.S.-Muslim relations, handling the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Iran.

Furthermore, Egyptians’ opposition to foreign aid illustrates the people’s desire for a government that is not subject to foreign influence, unlike the Mubarak regime. They no longer want Western powers to enact project their influence through financial and economic means. The idea is that by rejecting foreign money and thereby foreign influence, Egypt will have a government that is not constantly indebted to foreign powers. By opposing foreign aid from the Western countries and trying to sustain their own economy, Egyptians feel as though they are able to achieve a level of equality with the U.S.

Despite the declining support for U.S. aid, another $1.5 billion was approved for the 2013 Fiscal Year, however but a very small portion is actually designated as economic aid. $1.3 billion goes towards funding the Egyptian military, which has allowed the two countries to develop a strong military-to-military relationship. According to the Christian Science Monitor, 80 percent of the military aid is used for weapons procurement costs, and the Egyptian military has contracts with American arms manufactures and helps support the American economy via the weapons manufacturing industry.

This military aid has left Egypt indebted to the U.S. government, which gives the United States leverage to shape Egyptian politics. In March 2012, Congress knew that Egypt would accept the aid, so conditions requiring the North African country to protect human rights and to abide by the 1979 peace treaty with Israel were added to the spending bill. This is precisely the kind of influence that the Egyptian people hope to put an end to with opposition and rejection of U.S. aid., thereby achieving independence from Western influence.