The PJ Tatler

Egyptians hate getting foreign aid from the US; Americans hate giving it. The solution is obvious: Stop!

A new Gallup poll in Egypt reveals that 71% of Egyptians disapprove of their country getting economic aid from the US. (Why? Because they hate America, that’s why.)

Meanwhile here on the home front, majorities of Americans of all political stripes disapprove of paying out foreign aid to Egypt, with a solid 58% of all Americans saying “No” to giving Egypt aid. (And that poll was from a year ago, before recent anti-American developments in Egypt; the percentages are likely much higher by now.)

The question then becomes:

If we don’t want to give it, and they don’t want to take it, then why in the heck are we still giving it to them?

The answer dates back to 1979, when we agreed to give them aid as a reward for signing the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty. And we’ve been dutifully doling it every year since.

Now, countries unilaterally abrogate their treaties all the time, but that’s not something I advocate the U.S. should do cavalierly; we need to maintain our reputation as a nation that keeps its promises. However, I argue that recent developments in Egypt have released us from honoring any treaty with its previous governments.

When any nation undergoes a major revolution, its new government often makes a complete break with its previous government. All prior treaties then become unenforceable, because they were agreed upon by a governmental structure that no longer exists.

Consider any revolution (or era-defining abrupt change in government) you can think of, and in every case the pre-existing treaties and agreements were jettisoned unceremoniously.

Did the Bolsheviks honor the treaties and contracts signed by the Czar? No.

Did Ataturk’s new secular government in 1920s Turkey honor the treaties of the Ottoman Empire? No.

Did post-1975 communist unified Vietnam honor the agreements which South Vietnam had previously affirmed? No.

Did Ayatollah Khomeini continue the government of the Shah with unbroken continuity? No.

And in all these cases, as well as just about every other case throughout modern history, the other parties to treaties with these countries also abandoned them and treated them as null and void in relation to the new state. Did we continue to support the new Iranian regime, just as we had supported the Shah? No. Did we send military aid to the new leaders in Saigon after 1975? No. And so on.

The “Arab Spring” and the subsequent election of the Muslim Brotherhood and other extreme Islamists in Egypt represents a revolution equal in severity to any of the examples given above. Our agreement was with the Sadat government; Mubarak’s regime, however undemocratic it may have been, was essentially a continuation of the Sadat-era policies. The change from Sadat to Mubarak did not constitute a fundamental political revolution, and thus our agreement with Egypt was still in force.

However the ouster of Mubarak and the ascent of the Islamists this year means that Egypt has been reborn as essentially a new nation, for better or worse. The old rules are out; Mubarak’s bitterest opponents are now in charge, and they will reshape Egypt into an Islamic republic.

We did not enter into an agreement with an Islamic republic. We entered into an agreement with a secular government. One that no longer exists. Thus, all prior agreements are declared null and void, and we start with a fresh slate.

I suggest we now write “$0” on that slate, and use that as the starting point for future negotiations.