U.S. assistance to Egypt is helping political parties of all ideologies prepare for the upcoming elections -- even Islamic parties that may have anti-Western agendas.
"We don't do party support. What we do is party training.... And we do it to whoever comes," William Taylor, the State Department's director of its new office for Middle East Transitions, said in a briefing with reporters today. "Sometimes, Islamist parties show up, sometimes they don't. But it has been provided on a nonpartisan basis, not to individual parties."
The programs, contracted through the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI), include helping political parties in Egypt conduct polling, provide constituent services, and prepare for election season. NDI's chairwoman is former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. IRI's chairman is Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
Taylor said that none of the U.S. funding that has gone to election preparation is coordinated or vetted through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which assumed power after the overthrow of former President Hosni Mubarak.
"It absolutely does not go to the SCAF," he said, noting that the Egyptian military still receives billions in military aid from the United States.
Taylor, who just got back from a trip to Egypt and Tunisia, said that he left Egypt unworried about the SCAF holding on to power after the coming elections.
"They wanted to make it very clear to this American sitting on the other side of the table that they didn't like the governing business," he said. "I do believe that they are uncomfortable governing. Some would say they're not doing a great job of it. "
Taylor led a similar office in the 1990s that coordinated policy in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. He is pressing for $2 billion in new aid to Egypt, half in loans and half in debt forgiveness, but acknowledged that the U.S. fiscal situation is not nearly as good now as it was then.
"This is a tight time on budgets here, as we all know. And when [State Department spokeswoman] Toria [Nuland] and I worked together earlier, we had a lot more money to put in to the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe," he said. "Now, that having been said, we recognize that there are other countries that are eager to provide support, and we support that."
But Taylor also said that promises of financial assistance to Egypt from other countries in the region have not materialized, leaving Egypt's government with little choice but to accept billions of dollar in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank -- loans that come with strings attached.
"The IMF was in Egypt, and they put an offer of about $3 billion on the table for the finance minister. The finance minister was interested. He went to the SCAF. The SCAF said, ‘No, thank you.' The finance minister told the IMF, ‘No, thank you.' But just last week when I was there, he told me that he's likely to be able to accept an IMF offer this time," Taylor said.
Egypt owes the United States about $1 billion over the next three years from previous loans, but if Congress agrees, the State Department wants to let Egypt keep that money and spend it on its political transition, with U.S. consultation.
"We, the United States government, will agree with you, the Egyptian government, on how to spend that billion dollars in Egypt," Taylor said. "But it won't come here. It won't come back to the Treasury. It'll stay there and do projects that we are working on right now."
Taylor said the money would be spent on an "identifiable" joint project that would show Egyptians that "yes, we do care if your transition works."
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