US aid to Egypt: What does it buy?

Since 1979, Egypt has averaged $2 billion a year in US aid. Lately, the military has received at least half that, using it to cover most of its weapons purchases.

AP/Emilio Morenatti
An Egyptian man rides his camel as he looks for tourists next to Giza Pyramids after re-opening for tourism, in Egypt on Feb.14, 2011. Egypt's ruling military council has issued a new communique calling on labor leaders to stop strikes and protests to allow a sense of normalcy to return to the country.

The U.S. has given Egypt a lot of money over the years. How much? More than you probably think.

Since 1979, US assistance to Egypt has averaged about $2 billion a year, according to a new Congressional Research Service (CRS) report on US-Egyptian relations. That adds up to a whopping $64 billion.

In that period, Egypt has been the second-largest foreign recipient of US cash. (Israel is No. 1, in case you’re interested.) In part, that’s a legacy of the Camp David Accords. The United States promised generous aid packages to both Egypt and Israel in return for their making concessions to each other in a peace pact.

The accords’ architect, President Jimmy Carter, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat got along like a house on fire, by the way. Maybe that had something to do with it – it’s always easier to write checks to people you like.

“In that relationship there was real warmth ... Sadat and the president just meshed well and accommodated each other,” said Carter administration National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in his exit interview from the White House in 1981.

Here’s another distinguishing thing about US aid to Egypt: The vast majority of it is earmarked for the military. In recent years Egypt has received about $1.3 billion in military aid annually. Of that, about one-third goes to weapons maintenance, one-third to weapons upgrades, and one-third to weapons purchases, according to CRS. You’ve probably seen Egypt’s US-designed M1 tanks in news footage from Tahrir Square. Egypt has also bought American-made Apache helicopters, F-16 jet fighters, and Knox-class frigates.

US aid “covers as much as 80% of the [Egyptian] Defense Ministry’s weapons procurement costs,” estimates CRS.

What about aid to Egypt intended to promote democracy? Oh yeah, that. It’s been cut in recent years, and since 2009 has sat at about $20 million annually. Most of that has gone to Egyptian-approved government-to-government projects.

The bottom line here is that the impact of US democracy efforts in Egypt “has been limited,” in the words of a recent US AID Inspector General report.

[Editor's note: The original version misstated the agency connected with the Inspector General report.]

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