20110325 syria protest 54
Syrian protesters chant slogans in support of President Bashar al-Assad as they hold up his picture during a rally in the Old City of Damascus on March 25, 2011. - 

Kai Ryssdal: The news from the Middle East today has shifted just slightly away from Libya. Syrian troops are reported to have opened fire on anti-government protesters in Damascus.

The violence there continues what seems to be something of a pattern. Where there's significant American aid at risk, governments have been less prone to crack down.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

Nancy Marshall Genzer: The U.S. sent Egypt $1.5 billion last year. It was mostly military aid. Hundreds of Egyptians were killed during the protests there. But the army didn't launch an all-out assault.

Samer Shehata teaches Arab politics at Georgetown University. He says the White House made it clear that U.S. assistance would be re-evaluated if the military wasn't kept in check.

Samer Shehata: Of course Egyptian military officers realized that if they used massive force against the Egyptian protesters, there was going to be a consequence.

But that was Egypt. Yemen and Bahrain also got U.S. aid, but just a fraction of what we give to Egypt. They have both cracked down, brutally, on their people.

Lawrence Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council. He says, the more aid we give, the more influence we have. But it's influence, not control.

Lawrence Haas: Our leverage through our foreign aid is a limited thing. We can never expect to dictate how another government ought to behave.

And then there are countries like Pakistan. Villanova economist Christopher Kilby says Pakistan gets lots of U.S. aid, because it's essential to the war in Afghanistan. If it looked like a mass uprising there would lead to a radical anti-U.S. government, we'd behave differently.

Christopher Kilby: If we really viewed it as a serious threat to our ability to continue operations in Afghanistan and in parts of Pakistan we would even condone violence.

Kilby says U.S. aid does influence other governments, but to varying degrees with wildly different outcomes.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.