published Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Investing in Egypt concerns lawmakers

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With the United States facing its own budget woes, the region’s lawmakers are dubious about committing to economically assist Egypt until its next leader is announced.

This comes as President Barack Obama is calling for Congress to forgive America’s historic ally of approximately $1 billion in debt and also to provide it $1 billion in economic assistance.

“Drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid. On investment, not just assistance,” the president said in his recent address on the Middle East.

Many freshmen who say they were elected to cut the U.S. deficit say they’re wary of doling out more cash with so many unanswered questions about the future of Egypt and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Egypt is still under military rule and lawmakers say that raises the biggest question: Who exactly is the U.S. dealing with?

“Certainly that’s an issue that continues to bother Tennesseans, is why are we sending aid to countries that seem to hate us?” said U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., after casting a vote in Washington.

Many lawmakers say the calculus as to whether to provide U.S. aid or not is really quite simple.

“If we aid a country they should clearly be a friend and work with us toward peace and toward our goals in the international community,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleisch-mann, R-Tenn.

That’s the quandary though, as the congressman explained.

“Now we don’t know exactly where Egypt is going,” he said.

Middle Eastern experts, like Seif Da’Na, an associate professor of Sociology and International Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, said the evolution of the region will mean changes to U.S. policy.

“In the long run, of course, [Egypt is] not going to be in favor of the existing American strategy in the region that essentially depends on supporting dictatorships, like Saudi Arabia and the Bahrainian regime and other dictators,” Da’Na said in a phone interview.

Having successfully ousted Egypt’s decades-long ruler, Hosni Mubarak, it’s unclear what the protesters will demand of their country’s next leader.

That makes lawmakers question the president’s already announced economic support to the new and ever-evolving Egypt.

“We’re very, very concerned in the post-Mubarak era as to where Egypt is going to end up and we certainly don’t want to just flippantly give foreign aid to a country that we’re not sure exactly where they are in terms of maintaining a pro-U.S. stance,” Fleischmann said.

For now, policymakers caution patience and they say it’s really just a waiting game.

“I would feel better and I think the people in the district and around the country in other districts would feel better if we had more information,” DesJarlais said.

Contact Matt Laslo at 202-510-4331 or Follow him on Twitter at Laslo.

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