Last week, the Egyptian state and civil society celebrated the historical event of releasing a national strategy for human rights and a presidential decree to dedicate the year 2022 for civil society.
The “National Human Rights Strategy,” launched by President El-Sisi on September 11th, is the first long-term action plan to advance the Egyptian state’s performance on issues related to human rights.
The unprecedented move by the Egyptian leadership indicates a sincere desire to improve the status of human rights in Egypt, especially in the sector of political and civil rights, which has been ignored for years as the state was pre-occupied by handling urgent political and security threats.
Rather than congratulating Egypt for this historical step, the US Administration of President Biden chose to punish the Egyptian state, by cutting part of the military aid. On September 14th, Politico magazine mentioned that the Biden Administration is looking into upholding US$ 130 million of the military aid due to Egypt until the state improves its human rights record.
Legitimately, Egypt received the news with a sense of disappointment, particularly because the U.S. Administration is purposefully ignoring all the successes achieved by El-Sisi’s leadership on the social, economic, and cultural rights of the Egyptian people, in the past six years.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Administration has not learnt from the mistakes of former administrations and is not willing to change the flawed policy of applying economic and political pressures, through cutting or freezing the military aid, to push Egypt to improve human rights.
This method did not work with former Egyptian regimes, and will not work with the current one. Let alone the stains it is going to leave on the strategic partnership between the two countries.
For the past four decades, Egypt depended, almost exclusively, on the United States for armament. Egypt receives an economic and military aid package of 1.3 billion dollars from the United States on an annual basis, in compliance with the provisions of the Peace Accord signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979.
A few months after the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power, in 2013, the Obama Administration decided to freeze the military aid to Egypt, and thus put on hold its military procurement efforts. The aid freeze was partially lifted in 2015, and then applied again in 2016, and then lifted again in 2018, after Trump took office, and then partially cut at the end of the Trump administration.
Eventually, Egypt found itself obliged to abandon the U.S. as its exclusive military ally, and decided to actively diversify its sources of armament to avoid the consequences of U.S. morbid abuse of the military aid in applying political pressures.
Today, Egypt’s military exporters and allies include Russia, China, Japan, Germany, France, and Italy. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Egypt occupied 3rd position among the world’s 25 largest arms importers in 2019.
Ironically, the decision to freeze military aid to Egypt was discussed while American troops are present in Egypt for the US Central Command’s Bright Star-2021 military exercises.
The Bright Star Operation has been convened on annual basis by the US military, on Egyptian soil, since 1981, and is considered the benchmark of the strong strategic bond between Egypt and the United States.
In that sense, it is disappointing to watch the Biden Administration prefers to take the easy route of waving the military aid stick at Egypt, under the claim of wanting to improve human rights.
This policy has proven its failure several times, in the past. Rather, the U.S. should have worked with the Egyptian leadership, through tutoring and guidance, to show them how to improve human rights, especially since that El-Sisi regime is sincere about achieving progress in that regard.