The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2012: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East
Project on Middle East Democracy, July 2011.
by Stephen McInerney
Click here for information on the panel discussion that was held on Tuesday, July 19, 2011, in conjunction with the report’s release.
The Middle East and North Africa in July 2011 is a dramatically different place than it was in early January 2011. These historic changes call for bold responses, and President Obama has promised that the U.S. will support democratic principles with “all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.” These economic tools include direct funding and various forms of foreign assistance delivered to the region, and in this regard, the administration has demonstrated a clear commitment to supporting the political transitions in the Middle East and North Africa. The administration’s desire to use assistance to encourage reform in countries not undergoing transitions, however, is less clear, given that this requires the U.S. to address sensitive issues that may antagonize the host governments.
During a year when Congress has slashed funding globally for international affairs by 13%, the administration deserves credit for recognizing the historic importance of the moment in the Middle East and using creativity to find needed resources to support transitions in the region. The administration has shown a willingness to think outside the box and explore all options for meeting the demands at this critical juncture amid an extremely constrained budget environment.
Indeed, while foreign assistance to most countries in the world is being cut considerably, the only country in the Middle East that is facing substantial funding cuts is Iraq. Funding to Lebanon and Morocco have been reduced modestly and increased funding has been secured for Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Moreover, in Egypt and Tunisia, this funding has been allocated for programs that will genuinely aid these countries’ democratic development. In contrast, in countries that have not witnessed major leadership change like Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, programming fails to address the fundamental issues that need to be resolved in order for genuine democratization to take hold.
Thus, the U.S. may be willing to devote substantial funds to the Middle East, but it remains reluctant to support programming that addresses controversial or politically sensitive areas that may antagonize the host government in countries not currently undergoing political transitions.
• Transitions in the Middle East are a top priority. Despite deep cuts to the international affairs budget for Fiscal Year 2011 by Congress, the administration has shown creativity in finding considerable resources for Egypt and Tunisia, for the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), and for a new contingency fund.
• Before the uprisings, the administration avoided politically sensitive issues, instead favoring more cautious, less controversial democracy and governance work, often working with host governments to improve the technical proficiency of governing institutions, rather than working directly with political opposition and independent actors.
• The administration has wisely budgeted for further unexpected developments. The allocation of $160 million from the FY11 budget for a new regional response fund for the Middle East and North Africa is an unusual but appropriate step that should allow needed flexibility to react to further developments in Syria, Libya, Yemen, or elsewhere.
• Dysfunction in the Congressional appropriations process is a serious problem. Severe delays and irregularities in the Congressional budget and appropriations process have interfered with the planning and execution of foreign affairs spending, to a degree that undermines U.S. national security and national interests.
• The huge imbalance between military and nonmilitary aid remains – for now. While the Arab uprisings have sparked serious discussion about potentially shifting to a greater proportion of U.S. assistance for economic aid as opposed to military aid, that process has not yet begun.
• USAID is no longer restricted to funding registered NGOs in Egypt. The administration reversed a controversial 2009 decision that restricted USAID funding for Egyptian civil society to those organizations whose official NGO registration has been approved by the Egyptian government. That restriction signaled a lack of support for independent civil society and its reversal is welcome.
• Democracy programs appear underfunded in Morocco, which offers a real opportunity for support, given the small size of existing programs, the large number of effective NGOs willing to accept U.S. funding, a new reform agenda on which to hold the monarchy accountable, and a government less hostile to such programs than others in the region.
• Civilian assistance for Iraq has been sharply cut. Due to budget cuts and higher-than expected demand for resources across the region, civilian assistance for Iraq appears set to be reduced significantly from intended levels. Some observers fear that this will exacerbate already daunting challenges as the U.S. withdraws its military forces from the country.
About the Author:
Stephen McInerney is POMED’s Executive Director. Previously, he was Director of Advocacy at POMED. He has more than six years experience in the Middle East, including graduate studies in Middle Eastern politics, history, and the Arabic language at the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. His writing on Middle Eastern politics and U.S. foreign policy has been published by the Arab Reform Bulletin, The Daily Star, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, and The Washington Post. He has spoken on Middle East affairs with numerous media outlets including BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and CBS News. He received a Masters degree from Stanford University.