In the light of Egypt’s importance and strategic role in the region, U.S. tends to conduct a regular evaluation to the Egyptian regime’s performance. In this context, the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee the -Rep.Ileana Ros-Lehtinen- chaired a hearing titled, “Egypt: Challenges and Opportunities for U.S Policy.” In fact, this has been third hearing in the subcommittee on Egypt.
In her opening statement, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated that the subcommittee is highly concerned over Egypt’s regime due to its role in a volatile region, as well as the concerns of their members on the current U.S. policy toward our ally.
The Republican Chairwoman said that Egypt is facing ” numerous, but interdependent “political, economic, and security challenges. She stated in her statement that al-Sisi is in an extremely difficult situation to implement crucial structural reforms to Egypt’s economy without potentially undermining the fragile political support he is leaning on to bring much-needed stability to the country.
Moreover,” if these economic reforms are not made soon, we may see a return of the unrest that we saw on Egyptian streets not too long ago, ” she added. Economic deteriorations and political dissatisfaction have toppled Egypt’s dictator- Hosni Mubarak- who ruled Egypt for 30 years by January Revolution in 2011.
Besides the economic and political unrest, Egypt is facing growing security threats from an expanding ISIS and its Sinai Province affiliate.
The statement highlighted the expansion of Sinai Province insurgencies that formed militants’ cells targeting both Egyptian and Israeli military personnel and civilians, and has already killed hundreds of Egyptian soldiers, is continuing to target the peacekeeping operations or the MFO, Multinational Force of Observers in the Sinai, prompting the Pentagon to reposition U.S. troops and reconsider its presence there. According to the opening statement, there is much evidence that ISIS affiliated group in Sinai will be working on” linking its operations in the Sinai in eastern Egypt to its presence in the Western Desert that sits along the extremely porous border with Libya. “
In addition,” There are growing reports of increased activity in southern Egypt and the Nile Valley, including in greater Cairo which has seen IEDs and shootings like the one that claimed the lives of eight Egyptian policemen last month,” said the statement.
In this context, the Republican Chairwoman recommended in her statement that Egypt should adopt counter insurgency approach to face the growing threat in Sinai before it gets worse.
She also added to the security situation that she is highly concerned toward the government’s policy to crackdown human rights groups and civil society as “it’s squashing of dissent.” Ileana Ros-Lehtinen stated her disappointment to the government’s harsh measures against the NGO’s in Egypt that included freezing civil society’s assets as part of an ongoing case which began in 2011 and targeted U.S. NGOs like the International Republican Institute (IRI).In 2013, 43 NGO workers, in this case, were unjustly convicted by the Egyptian authorities.
She urged al- Sisi to do everything in his power – including working with the Egyptian parliament – to work with the judicial system and find a way to pardon these workers as soon as possible. She added, “The government needs to find a way to open up civil society and allow Egyptians to participate and thrive in public life or it risks exacerbating the very problems it is trying to avoid.”
On the other hand, the subcommittee opening considered Egypt’s economic crisis as the biggest challenge facing the regime. Cash floating from the Gulf States, especially from Saudi Arabia, as well as loans from the World Bank, the IMF, and others have managed to keep the economy afloat for the time being. “But these investments aren’t likely to stimulate growth in the long-term and the government has to make difficult, structural reforms like reducing the bloated public payroll and passing the long-promised Value Added Tax,” she said.
Egypt’s economic situation has been dramatically deteriorated under an al-Sisi regime. Shortage of foreign currency, tourism, and foreign investments withdrawal have hit the economy strongly along with the high unemployment rate among youth, and around 60% of the population is poor and living on subsidies.
She considered the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund as the only bright side of the economic spectrum. In 2012, Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund was authorized by the Congress and has been successfully investing in Egypt’s private sector to create jobs and support sustainable development. “The Enterprise Fund, as with all the aid that Congress has appropriated, is an example of how much the United States wants to help Egypt as both an ally and a strong supporter of peace in that troubled region,” she said.
However, it isn’t a one-way solution. She believes that the Egyptian government should exert more efforts to help the U.S. and that includes allowing our Economic Support Funds or ESF money to be programmed. She said, ”As of March 31st, there is a backlog of approximately 900 million dollars in ESF for Egypt because the government has held up permits for our implementing partners on everything from democracy and governance to education and healthcare.”
On the other hand, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chairman Royce, Ranking Member Engel, and the Co-chairs of the Tunisia Caucus, signed a letter this month asking the Secretary of State to reprogram up to 20 million dollars of this money for Tunisia. She explained that transferring funds from Egypt to Tunisia isn’t offensive to Egypt,” but it makes little sense to continue letting these funds sit in the pipeline when they can be spent somewhere else – someplace like Tunisia which is in desperate need of the funds and is willing to let us help,” she said.