After coming across a Christian Science Monitor map displaying the treatment of LGBT citizens in each country in Africa earlier this week, I thought back to the speech recently delivered by U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton. Delivered at the Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, the speech called for greater support for the human rights of LGBT citizens across the world and, in so many words, making it clear that State Department personnel would be advised to consider treatment of LGBT populations when making decisions about foreign support, including foreign aid. The message seemed clear – countries that tolerated or supported the abuse or lack of equal rights for LGBT citizens would run the risk of aid reviews and/or cancellations.
While we are still some time away from seeing just how the US State Department will follow up on Clinton’s speech, its worth exploring how closer attention to LGBT rights could impact much needed aid packages to countries emerging from the Arab Spring. This is especially relevant in countries that have seen more conservative parties make significant strides during recent elections, such as Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. According the CSM summary, all countries in North Africa have policies of imprisonment from one to ten months for LGBT citizens. Further, every one of those countries receives some level of foreign aid from the United States, led by Egypt with $1.5 billion in support as of last year. According to the US government releases, Egypt is followed by Morocco with $43.6 m, Tunisia with $6.5 million, Algeria with $2.8 million and Libya with $1.6 million though that is likely to change after the country holds planned elections in the Spring.
There is little reason to believe that the US will base all or any of their attention on LGBT rights when making final aid decisions over the coming months given the weight of other factors in the region, including security and political stability. Furthermore, it may not even be advisable at this point to interfere in how foreign aid is spent at all so early in the process of building new governments, according to regional observers.
“The best thing is probably to just give the money to the governments and then encourage them to use it in ways that make sense and monitor it,” Frank Anderson, president of the Middle East Policy Council, told the International Business Times.”History has shown that there’s great sloppiness and opportunity for corruption when you give governments money, but attempting to manage the system ourselves has failed miserably in place after place after place.”
Still, given the timing of Clinton’s speech, it is worth being aware of the elevated status of the issue as countries across the region struggle to find a new political and social balance and what, if any, role does the State Department intend to play in that process.