FY16 House Appropriations Draft Bill Removes Egypt Conditions; Other Bill Highlights

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations released its draft Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the subcommittee approved the bill without amendment by voice vote.  It will next be considered by the full House Appropriations Committee.  The bill includes a number of notable provisions for the Middle East, particularly for Egypt.

Most notably, the bill removes democracy conditions on assistance to Egypt that were included in the FY15 Appropriations Act. They have been replaced with a 90-day recurring reporting requirement that would resemble the previous FY15 conditions, with some key distinctions:

  • FY16 would require a report from the Secretary of State on “steps taken” by Egypt to hold parliamentary elections; protect and advance the rights of women and religious minorities; implement laws or policies to govern democratically, protect the rights of individuals, and uphold due process of law; implement reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, including the ability of civil society organizations and the media to function without interference; and improve the transparency and accountability of security forces.
  • The FY15 bill required that Egypt hold “free and fair” parliamentary elections; FY16 only seeks only that the country “hold parliamentary elections.”
  • Whereas the FY15 omnibus required “credible investigations and prosecutions of the use of excessive force,” the FY16 bill seeks only a report on steps taken to “improve the transparency and accountability of security forces.”
  • The FY16 bill also removes the FY15 condition that Egypt “has released American citizens who the Secretary of State determines to be political prisoners and dismissed charges against them.” A recent State Department report specifies that there are four “dual nationals whose cases have political overtones” in jail in Egypt. That figure included the recently released Mohamed Soltan, leaving three in prison that the United States has suggested it sees as political prisoners.

Also of note, the FY16 bill would authorize $150 million for Economic Support Funds (ESF) for Egypt, but the language does not include perennial earmarks for higher education and scholarships, which are generally $35 million and $10 million, respectively. Subcommittee Chairwoman Kay Granger (R-TX) said of the changes, “What we want to do with Egypt is return to the way it was. We felt that [Egypt was] trying [to instill democracy] with Sisi and was keeping other agreements that were in our national security interests.”

The bill also proposes increased funding to the National Endowment for Democracy to $170 million, up from $135 million in the FY15 omnibus appropriations act. The FY16 bill includes no funding for the Complex Crises Fund, which received $50 million in FY15.  An increase of funding for the “Democracy Fund” is included in the draft text, raising the funding level to $140.5 million from the FY15 level of $130.5 million.  Additionally, the bill renews existing language for the Brownback amendment and the Section 7008 “coup clause,” rejecting suggested changes proposed by the administration.