More Than Just Money: United States’ Aid Package to Egypt

Photo Credit: Voice of Russia[1]

By: Ross Clark

The Egyptian political system has been in upheaval since demonstrations to remove President Hosni Mubarak began in early 2011. The establishment of a democratic political system following Mubarak’s 2011 ouster brought some measure of hope to the Egyptian people for a new and more accountable political system. Unfortunately, President Mohammad Morsi’s mismanagement of the economy and flouting of democratic ideals provoked massive public demonstrations by the first anniversary of his election as President. Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party were subsequently removed from power by a military coup d’etat on July 3, 2013. Or was it a coup? This 1.55 billion dollar question has been the debate of Washington regarding whether or not the U.S. government has a legal obligation to cut off the military and economic aid Egypt receives each year.[2]

The 1961 Foreign Assistance Act is the legal framework that regulates U.S. aid and defines the constraints under which this aid is given. According to section 508 of this act, aid must be suspended to any country “whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree.”[3] Therefore, according to this Act and the circumstances that occurred in Egypt, it seems clear that Egypt should no longer receive US aid. So why is the administration hesitating? Strategically, Egypt has been a focal point in the Middle East and has been an important strategic power. Thus the relations America does have, although tumultuous at the moment, could prove devastating to regional support if they were to be broken.

However, there are a number of advantages to continuing the $1.55 billion in annual military and economic aid distributed to Egypt ($1.3 billion for the military and $250 million for economic aid) including support for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic government.[4] This pursuit of stability stems from the historical partnership the US and Egypt have developed in order to advance regional peace and military cooperation. For instance, maintaining U.S. naval priority access to the Suez Canal for faster deployments to the Persian Gulf has proved worthwhile for regional security along with over-flight and refueling rights.[5] Additionally, the U.S.’s relationship with Israel, and the peace between Egypt and Israel that has remained intact since the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, is one of the most important reasons behind the continued military aid. Egypt, with the help of U.S. military aid, has battled the rise of instability, and is continuing to battle the rise of insurgency and radicalism within the Sinai, close to the Israeli border. Likewise, security cooperation and interoperability has improved through U.S. joint military exercises such as Bright Star.[6] Maintaining a strong presence in this region and a stable relationship with Egypt is not a one-sided agreement but rather one that Egypt hopes to maintain as much as the United States does.

Between 1948 and 2011 the United States has provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral aid, and since 1979 Egypt has been the second largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.[7] Many critics believe that continued support for the Egyptian aid shows a lack of responsibility to protect the ideals of democracy. Tamara Cofman Wittes, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute argues to the contrary stating that, “[Aid is] there to incentivize governments that came in place through military coup to go back to democratic rule as soon as possible.”[8]

Mohamad Tawfik, Egyptian Ambassador to the United States had an opposite approach towards the military takeover and stated in an interview with Foreign Policy Magazine “it’s not a coup because the military did not take power. The military did not initiate it, it was a popular uprising. The military stepped in in order to avoid violence.”[9] Ultimately the decision in the U.S.’ hands is one that will impact the U.S. standpoint in Egypt and the broader Middle East. Whether this approach is based on pragmatism or principle is one that must be carefully and thoroughly considered and will have profound effects strategically and politically for the future of US influence in the region.


Ross Clark is a second year graduate student in the International Affairs program at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Pennsylvania State University in International Politics with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies. He has studied in Amman, Jordan and is proficient in the Arabic language. His primary research interests are in U.S. strategic thinking and Middle Eastern relations.


[2] Baker, Peter. “A Coup? Or Something Else? $1.5 Billion in U.S. Aid Is on the Line.” New York Times 04 07 2013,

Web. 6 Aug. 2013. <>.

[3] Aziz, Sahar. “U.S. Foreign Aid and Morsi’s Ouster.” Middle East Institute. (2013): n. page. Web. 6 Aug. 2013. <>.

[4] Sharp, Jeremy. United States. Congressional Research Service. Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations. 2013. Web. <>.

[5] “Strengthening the U.S. Egyptian Relationship (A CFR Paper).” Council on Foreign Relations. (2002): n. page. Web. 6 Aug. 2013. <>.

[6] Aftandilian, Gregory. “Egypt’s New Regime and the Future of the U.S.-Egyptian Strategic Relationship.” Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press. April (2013): Print.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Baker, Peter. “A Coup? Or Something Else? $1.5 Billion in U.S. Aid Is on the Line.” New York Times 04 07 2013, Web. 6 Aug. 2013. <>.

[9] Fish, Isaac. “Egyptian Ambassador to U.S.: Morsy Ouster ‘Not a Coup ‘but’ a Popular Uprising’.” Foreign Policy Magazine. 03 07 2013: Web. 6 Aug. 2013. <>.

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