By Mohamed Soliman
In 1978, Jimmy Carter hosted negotiations between Egypt and Israel at his presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland. Among other controversial terms that were negotiated at the summit, Egyptian President Sadat was requested to demilitarise the Sinai Peninsula and to guarantee freedom of passage through the Suez Canal and the Straits of Tiran.
Meanwhile, President Carter committed several billion US dollars in aid to Israel and Egypt that would be paid on a yearly basis. As a result of the Camp David Accords, Israel gained diplomatic recognition from Egypt – a key state in the Middle East. Egypt was the first Arab nation to recognise Israel. While many Arab nations were initially furious with Egypt’s decision to do so, others gradually announced diplomatic recognition of Israel as well.
In return, Egypt received $1.3 billion in US military aid each year. This fundamentally changed the orientation of the Egyptian military to align with Western interests. US military aid served to contain communist influence in the Middle East from late 1970s up until the end of the Cold War.
As a result of its newly strengthened relationship with the West, Egypt led the Arab military forces who participated in US efforts to free Kuwait from Iraqi invasions. Since the Camp David Accords, Egypt has consistently supported the United States in facilitating its interests in the Middle East. Examples of this facilitation include the Israel-Jordan peace treaty as well as the Oslo Accords.
The past three years in the Middle East have been extremely turbulent. We have witnessed the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia, which demonstrated that stable regimes can be easily toppled by the will of the people. Elsewhere, Arab revolutions have led to civil wars, specifically in Yemen, Syria, and Libya. In the international arena, Russia has risen as an influential player who can change the stakes of the game, and it appears that Russia wants new allies in the Middle East.
The civil wars in both Libya and Syria have both been detrimental to the stability of the whole region. The region has been influenced by a huge influx of jihadists from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Caucasus who have come to fight in the civil wars. These jihadists have direct links to Al-Qaida and have served as a platform for Al-Qaeda operations.
The US strategy of using jihadists to topple dictatorships like those led by Gaddafi and Al-Assad has caused long-term damage for the entire Middle East.
The governments in the region, specifically in Egypt and Tunisia, have been active in recruiting their own youth for jihadist movements in Syria. The governments in Egypt and in Tunisia each contributed about 4,000 jihadists to the Syrian civil war.
Another effect of the regime change is the disastrous situation along the Libyan-Egyptian borders. Conditions have worsened since the collapse of the government and institutions in Libya after the downfall of Gaddafi’s regime.
Recently, Libya has been facing potential assassinations of key security leaders in the government in Tripoli. Prime Minister Ali Zidane was kidnapped for two days by radical Islamic movements with the help of government officials.
If Egypt, due to its central location in relation to the rest of the Middle East, was unable to stop the influx of weapons entering the country from Libya, leaving for the Sinai, and then being shipped to the Gaza Strip, it would result in a disastrous security situation for the Middle East. Libya will only worsen, and the situation in Egypt will experience a further influx of jihadists and weapons that the Egyptian military must be able to combat.
All the governments that came to power after the revolution could not find a suitable solution to the security crisis in Sinai, even after counter-terrorist operations were carried out there. Terrorist groups in Sinai have killed over 200 army soldiers. The Sinai continues to be subject to repeated explosions and attacks on military checkpoints on a daily basis.
If the US cuts its military aid to Egypt during this crucial moment in history, it will be turning its back on the Egyptian people. It will leave a void that could be potentially filled by the Russians, who seek a strong Arab ally in the pending downfall of Bashar Al-Assad.
Presently, US aid to Egypt costs $1.5bn. This $1.5bn would be nothing compared to the price of a future conflict in the region or even losing its important naval access to the Suez Canal.
It is not important whether or not what happened in Egypt was a coup or a revolution. US aid to Egypt should not be affected either way. US aid to Egypt is a strategic cooperation between the two countries, regardless of the current state of the government.
Mohamed Soliman is the President of the El Midan Student Group, and is the Foreign Affairs secretary at Al-Dostour Party