USAID’s Response to Egypt

Photograph from New York Times
Photograph from New York Times

After Hillary Clinton’s round of interviews on Sunday answering media questions on the sociopolitical unrest arising in Egypt, many rebuttals erupted in the blogosphere criticizing USAID’s lack of coordination and strategy.  Clinton’s call for Egypt’s need for an “orderly transition” made many question the effectiveness of this true buzz phrase.  A New York Times article quotes Stephen P. Cohen, a leading Middle East expert, “How can you have a transitional government that is acceptable to both the military and the people in the streets, and that not a coronation for the Muslim Brotherhood?”

Cohen’s argument is accurate, how orderly will this transition be?  What is USAID’s game plan for Egypt’s transition to a democratic regime? Bill Easterly’s blog from Sunday criticized Clinton’s buzz phrase.  He indicates the term “transition” is a blank statement indicating that no position will actually be taken.  He continues by stating that USAID’s transition to democracy is a failed paradigm as noted in “Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 as a country in ‘transition to a democratic, free market society’.”  From USAID’s experience in the DRC, we may see a similar instance in Egypt.  Welcome Egyptians, to the world of “rhetorical make-believe”.

Egyptian pro-democracy advocates expressed that they felt betrayed by this response.  Kristoff explains that Washington was just merely worried about the price of oil, stability in Israel, access to the Suez Canal “instead of focusing on the prospect of freedom and democracy for the Egyptian people.”

Robert Goodwin, former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID stated that this pursuance of US’ national interest in the Middle East resulted in the US turning “a blind eye to autocratic rule”.  The US has supported Mubarak, but acknowledged the instability arising among the Egyptians.  Thus, the US established a multi-billion dollar foreign aid program through US Agency for International Development.  “USAID’s programs failed to do much of anything to reduce poverty or unemployment rates, the root causes of Egypt’s current unrest.”

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