US Focuses Egypt Aid on Coptic Majority Areas, Experts Question its Benefit
|Monday, July 30,2007 18:15|
A top official in the USAID acknowledged that Washington has changed, over the last years, the structure of the civil aid offered to Egypt to make unprecedentedly focus on Coptic majority residential areas, and strengthening the so called Coptic NGOs that includes organizations religious tolerance organizations.
This recognition was quoted from a document a copy of which was obtained by " America in Arabic. James Kunder, Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
This document was prepared last year to tell congressmen of the details of spending the aid, the first document of such a kind to show changes that Washington is carrying out on structure of its aid to the Egyptian government, the second biggest aid receiver of US aid after Israel.
It stipulated that: "US AID projects in Egypt in the health, education, infra-structure and civil society domains are now operative in all regions of high Coptic population density, especially in Upper Egypt, Cairo, and Alexandria."
The report allegedly claimed that water treatment projects were established in 18 villages with majority Coptic populations, and that some $200 million were used to fund water projects in areas mainly populated by Copts during the last five years. Fanning the flames The report, the paper claimed, declared that some $12 million of US AID were used to fund restorations of Christian historical sites, including the Hanging Church, Mar-Girgis church, and others.
Fear of Religious Tolerance
The document revealed also that there is a direct US funding- does not pass through Egyptian government- to dozens of Egyptian Coptic non-governmental organizations.
"An additional $2.2 million of US AID funds were granted to Coptic NGOs throughout the past six years", said the document.
US officials and some Coptic leaders in Diaspora have accused the Egyptian regime of exercising discrimination against Copts. Cairo stresses that there is no discrimination between Muslims and the Copts, citing facts like Copts possessing one third of the national wealth and big Egyptian companies although they account for only 10 % of the population.
The document observed changes on fields of spending the aid, saying:" The US strategy in the 1970s and 1980s focused on creating social and economic changes in Egypt. In the 1980s, it expanded its programs the fields of agriculture, education and reproductive health. In the 1990s, it focused on changing the economic and monetary policy, like privatization programs.
The new period, the document said, focuses on "the coming development in our programs which must be increasingly in line with supporting the democratic and economic reforms taking place now".
It said that:" The recently prepared programs should be concentrated and can target. One of these methods may be focusing on key regions, in which the funding can have a bigger effect, like democratic and economic development, reforming education and information technology" .
US President George Bush"s administration demanded Congress $1.72bln in military aid to Egypt, and $415mln in economic aid from 2008 budget.
Congressmen demanded last month linking sending $200mln aid to Egypt with making Cairo fight smuggling weapons from Sinai to Gaza Strip after Israel complained that these operations threaten its national security.
The economic civil aid to Egypt started in 1975 by Henry Kissinger, the former US Secretary of State. The aid reached $815mln a year after Egypt signed the peace agreement with Israel, mostly allocated to the process of opening the Egyptian market for US companies.
In early 1998, the aid started to decrease by $40mln a year to reach $407mln in 2008.
In his comment on these reports, Dr. Rafik Habib, a Coptic intellectual, said the timing of publishing the document may be related to the reported cuts in the US aid offered to Egypt.
Habib adds that the US administration is conducting direct interventions in the affairs of the Arab countries, specially Egypt. The US administration always reiterates that it backs specific directions, ideas and stances and it even uses the civil society to push the Egyptian society towards secularism, liberalism and spreading US values or the so called values of the free world.
Asked about the target from directly giving aid to Coptic majority areas, not through Egyptian government, Habib pointed out that the US government has concluded that intervention through governments is not enough for reaching the required change in the society, because they are dictatorial regimes. So, the civil society must have a direct participation.
Regarding the reported role of the media in the document, Habib explains that the US administration started to give due care to the media three years ago. It started with funding programs. It is reportedly funding newspapers, press institutions and its launches cable channels like Al-Hurra Channel to improve the image of the US government and to protect its principles.
For his part, Dr. Amr Al Shobaki, an intellectual and a researcher in Al-Ahram Center for strategic studies, questioned the authenticity of such information. He said that this information, in case it is true, reflect a crisis in the US administration"s treatment with the US aid. It is time now seek more sources to replace the US aid disadvantages more with many positive.
Regarding the timing of publishing this document, Dr. Amr says:" The timing is indicative, especially that it reflects a state of discontent towards the Egyptian regime. However it does not exercise any pressure on the regime. This reflects a state of confusion in the US attitude. The US administration does not want a substitute for the Egyptian regime, especially if this substitute is the Islamic movement according to it.
Commenting on the document, Dr. Essam El-Erian, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood group, suspected its credibility, saying, in case it is true, the document is a flagrant violation to the sovereignty of the Egyptian government.
Al Erian rejected the document"s reported focus on villages with Coptic majority, pointing out that it is rare to find a Coptic majority in villages and that the Copts will refuse this aid if it was directed in the manner mentioned in the document.
" It is worth noting that that Democratic-controlled US Congress has repeatedly attempted to obstruct offering US aid to Egypt" said the MB leader.