WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, on Tuesday chaired a hearing on the FY 2024 budget request for the Middle East and North Africa with Barbara Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, and Jeanne Pryor, Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for the Middle East, United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

In his opening remarks, Murphy said: “This is, of course, a region where the bulk of our assistance dollars go. Since 1946, the Middle East and North Africa has received $372 billion of U.S. assistance. That's equivalent to the regions of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America combined. So it's worth asking if this investment, this pretty massive investment has achieved its strategic objectives. And if not, why not?

“And here's a more pointed question. Seventy percent of the aid for this region is security assistance. So what's been the return on that investment? For instance, do we have more reliable security partners today? Do we have more democracy in the region? Do we have less conflict? I don't know that any of the answers to those questions is a definitive yes. So it is possible that the primary outcome of much of this assistance has been to simply enable dictatorships that use the military more often for domestic repression than countering external threats…[I]'d argue that too much of our assistance today is locked in decades-old assumptions about the region while the sand is shifting under our feet and the region is changing rapidly,” Murphy continued.

Murphy highlighted his concerns that the FY24 budget does not reflect American values: “This budget cuts funding for democracy assistance in Tunisia while leaving support for the military largely unchanged. It essentially carries on business as usual with respect to the $1.3 billion that Egypt gets with some minimal conditions attached to it. Makes no real fundamental change in our relationship with Gulf countries despite their deepening commitment to political repression. I worry that this budget doesn't communicate the values that we share in that it doesn't make any significant changes to the way in which we flow dollars to countries that either have worsening human rights records like Tunisia or countries that have shown no meaningful commitment to change like Egypt despite the fact that we attach occasional conditionalities on top of the dollars year after year.”

On reopening the U.S. embassy in Libya, Murphy said: “The budget request includes a request for a 6.6% increase in worldwide security protection dollars for additional local guard forces and the potential resumption of a diplomatic presence inside Libya. Obviously we've been trying to supplement from Tunisia our activities and diplomatic efforts in Libya, but it does seem time that we bring back a physical presence there.”

On reports that Saudi Arabia’s conditions for normalized relations with Israel include security guarantees from the U.S., Murphy said: “Undeniably, a normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be a pivotal and immensely positive development. In many ways a sort of certification of a detente that has been underway for years, but we should be actively engaged in trying to help make that happen. One of the requests that have been reported in open source reporting is that the Saudis are seeking a defense guarantee from the United States, some kind of security guarantee. And I guess the only question I would ask right now is to simply confirm that any security or defense guarantee provided to Saudi Arabia would be submitted to Congress for ratification. That's obviously something that can't be done without congressional consent.”

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