TCS Daily

Our 'Ally' Egypt

By James K. Glassman - September 24, 2004 12:00 AM

In this Olympic year, a new record has been achieved in a popular international sport: bashing America.

A survey of six Arab countries in June by Zogby International found that 98 percent of Egyptian citizens have an "unfavorable attitude" toward the United States. Yes, 98 percent! That's up from 76 percent in 2002 and smashes the old mark, 87 percent, held by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

What's remarkable about the accomplishment is that Egypt is the No. 2 recipient of U.S. aid -- $50 billion since 1975.

What do we get in return? Well, about 60 percent of the aid is military, but Egypt was definitely not a member of the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq -- even though the Egyptian government was happy to see Saddam Hussein disappear. According to General Tommy Franks' new book, American Soldier, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, told the U.S. that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, but still refused to support the U.S. military buildup in the Gulf.

As for economics, Egypt, with a per-capita GDP of $1,221 (one-sixth the level of Thailand) is a basket case -- a classic example of the failure of command-and-control policies. Egypt ranks ninety-fifth, behind such nations as Sri Lanka and Burkina Faso, on the Index of Economic Freedom compiled by the Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal, which measures property rights, trade and monetary policy, and overall government intervention in the economy.

Nor has American money moved Egypt closer to democracy. Mubarak has ruled Egypt for 23 years now under an emergency law that followed the assassination of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat. Mubarak is the sole candidate in occasional plebiscites, and he has groomed his son as his successor.

Mubarak stays in power as many other Middle East authoritarians do, in large part by blaming the U.S. and Israel for his country's problems. Here, from the Web site of the Middle East Media Research Institute, are typical items in the official and quasi-official Egyptian press: An Egyptian government weekly magazine piece spills ink on "The Jews Slaughtering Non-Jews, Draining Their Blood, and Using It for Talmudic Religious Rituals"; an Egyptian government paper claims, "The American Intervention in Darfur is a Plot to Control Sudanese Oil."

Of course, Egypt presents a foreign-policy problem for America. In theory, anyway, things could be worse. Mubarak did urge Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to accept the deal President Clinton brokered with Israel at Camp David.

Still, Arafat's rejectionism didn't change Egypt's position on Israel, the U.S., and the Jews -- nor should we expect it to. Dictators need external threats, even if they don't exist.

But democracies like the United States need clarity. The double game we have been playing with countries like Egypt isn't working. Most Egyptians -- like most Saudis, Syrians, and others in the Arab and Muslim world -- hate us for two apparently contradictory reasons. First, their leaders use a vast propaganda network to vilify us, and, second, we help keep those same leaders in power, mocking our own values. What to do?

Cut aid to Egypt, which doesn't appreciate it, and for symmetry, to Israel, which doesn't need it.

Make it crystal clear that President Bush means what he said in February: that "America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East." We need to get on the side of reformers in Egypt.

Demand free-market economic policies. As the U.N. points out in the second of an excellent series of Arab Human Development Reports, total GDP in the entire Arab world is about the same as Spain's, productivity is falling, "the middle on the wane," and there's been a "general erosion of societal incentives for knowledge acquisition."

Also, publicize the vicious and loony lies that the Egyptian government is promoting about the United States -- and fight back by launching serious, well-funded programs of public diplomacy to promote U.S. policies and values.

It's hard to see how being forceful, honest, and consistent can hurt America's standing in Egypt and other Arab countries. There's nowhere to go but up.

An earlier version of this article appeared in The American Enterprise magazine.


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