US senate bill conditions Egypt aid on disclosure of security budget

Ahram Online, Wednesday 4 Jul 2012

As details of Egypt's state budget gradually emerge, US senators condition military assistance to Egypt on public disclosure of Egypt's military, police budgets

File photo: U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, left, meets with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of Egypt's ruling military council, right, at the Ministry of Defense in Cairo (Photo: AP)

A draft bill proposed by the US Senate conditions US military assistance to Egypt on public disclosure of Egypt's military and police budgets.

The bill, tabled on 24 May by democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, outlines the conditions that the government of Egypt must meet to qualify for aid.

One of these conditions is that the US Secretary of State must certify that Egypt is meeting its obligations under the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The bill also states that the government of Egypt should provide "civilian control over, and public disclosure of, [Egypt's] military and police budgets."

Details of Egypt's military budget are not publicly available and most of the LE27.3 billion allocated for defence is simply chalked up to "other expenses."

One example of the ambiguity surrounding Egypt's military budget is an LE8.2 billion item listed in the current budget merely as "gross salaries." According to budget expert Abdel-Fattah El-Gebaly, such ambiguous amounts are usually allocations for Egypt's security apparatus.

After adding the police budget, total security spending in Egypt amounts to LE45.7 billion, some 8.5 per cent of total state spending.

Moreover, annual US aid allotments to Egypt's military are not disclosed in Egypt's state budget and are not subject to public audit.

Egypt's state budget for 2012/13 was approved on 1 July by the military council, which assumed legislative authority after Egypt's democratically-elected parliament was dissolved last month. Critics say that insufficient time was given to discuss the proposed budget and that key items therein were never debated.

The US senate bill also calls for Egypt to "fully repeal the Emergency Law" and guarantee basic freedoms, including freedom of expression, the right of civil society organisations to operate freely, and the right to establish political parties.

The bill, however, gives the Secretary of State the right to waive any of the aforementioned requirements, if doing so was deemed "important to the national security interest of the United States."

The draft bill would assign funds to the State Department's foreign operations and related programs for the US fiscal year ending September 30, 2013.

A similar bill has also been presented to the US House of Representatives, but this does not put any disclosure requirements on Egypt's military or police budgets.

The two bills have yet to be approved by either house of US Congress. The US legislative system requires both houses of congress and the president to approve bills before they become laws.

The US Senate is currently held by a Democratic majority, while the House of Representatives has a Republican majority.

Egypt, the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel, has received an average of $1.6 billion a year since it signed the peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Of this aid, more than 65 per cent – or $1.3 billion – goes towards military aid, which plays an important role in the shaping of Egypt’s foreign policy.

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