Democracy at any cost: Obama’s $800 million for ‘Arab Spring’ states

A Libyan rebel fighter listens to US President Barack Obama's speech on TV (AFP Photo / Saeed Khan)
Despite the protests and the tightened belts at home, President Obama still reckons the US has enough spare cash to hand over the sum of $800 million to support the “young democracies” of the Arab Spring.

­He made a statement outlining his proposals at his annual budget message to Congress. The proposals were part of his budget request for the fiscal year 2013, which starts in October.

The White House revealed its plans to help the Arab Spring states on Monday. The grim outlook of the US economy and the continuing mass protests at home do not seem to deter Obama from nursing the countries that the US wants to see as heading to a better, truly “democratic” future.

Nor does he seem inclined to end military support to Egypt. Obama wants to keep aid to Egypt at recent levels, which is $1.3 billion a year despite a crisis triggered by an Egyptian investigation targeting American democracy activists, Reuters reports. Egypt has been getting about $1.6 billion annually, mostly in military assistance, and is thus regarded as one of the top recipients of US aid. In the fiscal year 2012, $250 million of aid approved for Egypt was economic; $1.3 billion was military and there was a $60 million “enterprise fund” approved by Congress.

Most of the economic aid for the Arab Spring countries – $770 million – is expected to be spent on establishing a new “Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” Obama said.

Now the president’s proposals need to be approved by Congress, where some lawmakers would rather cut overseas expenses to address the budget shortfall at home, with aid to Egypt being what sparks their discontent. Some want it stopped completely if the country does not drop accusations against US democracy activists and lift a travel ban on them.

Obama continued the practice of putting proposed foreign assistance for war zones in a separate account. That is called “Overseas Contingency Operations” and includes $8.2 billion for the State Department and foreign aid. There is $3.3 billion for Afghanistan, $1 billion for Pakistan, and $3 billion for Iraq, where US troops have left the country but the State Department has picked up some of their functions such as police training.