Opinion| Washington and the confrontation with Egypt

Hatem Sadek
6 Min Read

Numerous indicators confirm that Egypt has a political, economic, and military vision capable of anticipating the future and dealing with its repercussions, and facing risks as well.

The most important of these indicators are the achievements we see on the internal scene that are difficult to achieve in such a short period, as it is impossible in any way to deny them.

This starts with reforming the economy, improving the investment climate and infrastructure projects, in addition to maximising Egypt’s capabilities. It also means eliminating many crises, such as energy and fuel shortages, which used to cause great suffering to the Egyptian citizen.

This ended with mega national projects and the work on all the files that had been silenced for more than 50 years, such as slums, health, and education.

As for the external achievements, the explanation may be somewhat long, but the focus will be on the nature of Egyptian-US relations during the coming period. This is especially regarding the foresight and exploration stage led by the new Democrat administration in the US, as it reassesses its policy with Egypt.

Despite the strong divergence and perhaps deep differences between the two countries ’viewpoints on many regional and local issues, Cairo is a major factor for Washington in the stability of the Middle East.

The US has a long list of interests with Egypt, foremost of which is preserving the peace treaty with Israel signed in 1979, which remains the cornerstone of stability in the region. In addition to that, the close military cooperation, which greatly limits the expansion of Russian arms sales in the Arab countries, and other coordination in several other important areas.

But as usual, in politics, there are neither lasting friendships nor permanent enmities, but it is always the common interests that determine the nature of relations.

Therefore, from time to time, we find some attempts within the US Congress, whether by external incitement from some countries or many American personalities with suspicious interests, to raise the human rights file in Egypt. This relates to allegations of violations against the law, which is a term that terrorist groups and suspicious human rights organisations have used in their attempt to impose sanctions on Egypt.

But in fact, that is not the best way to try to force Egypt and its leadership to surrender. Historical precedents should make the US decision-maker think twice before making any decision about Egypt.

Even when the dispute occurred in 2013 after the fall of Muslim Brotherhood rule, the US Congress did not cut off economic aid, although the Obama administration froze $260m in military aid for two years and suspended joint military exercises with Egypt, in an attempt to pressure Cairo. Nevertheless, the Egyptian administration did not back down from its stances and its bias towards the people’s choices.

In 2020, and despite the intervention of then US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Cairo refused to release three US citizens arrested in various cases.

Also in March 2021, based on congressional directives, the Biden administration took an unprecedented step by signing the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHCR) statement expressing the Council’s deep concern about the “course of human rights in Egypt”.

Around the same time, Cairo began receiving five advanced Sukhoi-35 fighter jets, the first in a batch of 24 aircraft purchased in 2018. The list is long and extended, demonstrating the failure of Washington’s policy to put pressure on Egypt or force it to take any decision.

Using US aid as a pressure card is no longer useful because the value of that aid does not exceed 1% of Egypt’s gross national product. Even the armaments file is no longer useful.

The evidence is that most of the weapons development processes in the Egyptian army are no longer purely American, but have become multi-source. This reflects the army’s ability to deal with any military system, no matter how accurate its technical complexities are.

In this case, the current US administration must re-read the scene again, and deal with Egypt in terms of interests and strategic relations that have linked the two countries for nearly 50 years.

This would ensure that they do not rely on previous unsuccessful pressures, and find effective mechanisms that can benefit from the pivotal role of Egypt in the Arab region and the Middle East. This is if it wants to succeed with Egypt.

Dr Hatem Sadek, Professor at Helwan University

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