Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Newly-Found Balance in US-Egypt Relationship:Op-ed

Tue 15 Nov 2022 | 07:41 PM
Dalia Ziada
Dalia Ziada
Dalia Ziada

Egypt and the United States have obvious disparities on the issues of civil rights and democratization. Yet, the mutual interests of the political leadership of the two countries are fostering their will to cooperate over their tendency to disagree. That was clearly exhibited in the warm conversations that the United States President, Joseph Biden, and House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, had with the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, in Sharm El-Sheikh on Friday.

The photos of President El-Sisi laughing with US President Biden and walking arm-in-arm with U.S. House Speaker, Pelosi, down the aisle of the COP27 Summit, created a roar on social media. The pro-state media interpreted the footage as an emphasis on Egypt’s central role on the regional and world stages. Meanwhile, the media figures affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group, most of them living outside of Egypt, got perplexed about how to justify the scene to the group’s bases inside Egypt.

For weeks, they have been claiming that Biden was going to lecture El-Sisi about the importance of the Muslim Brotherhood and force him to bring them back to the country. They even called for a so-called revolution against El-Sisi on the same date of Biden’s visit. To their disappointment, that was not the case and Biden did not even mention the issue in his meeting with El-Sisi.

Nevertheless, the topic of Egypt’s efforts to advance human rights reforms has been raised by both leaders, in Sharm El-Sheikh. At the public opening remarks that preceded their bilateral meeting, President El-Sisi made sure to bring up the issue in the presence of journalists. El-Sisi said he is keen on improving state performance on human rights and asked the United States for support and advice.

“First of all, I would like to emphasize the strength of the strategic relationship between Egypt and the United States that has not changed over 40 years. There has always been a common understanding regarding all the issues relating to this region;” said President El-Sisi. “But there’s always a point that is the center of the debate, that we appreciate very much, and this is the human rights issue. In this particular regard, we have a comprehensive approach that I would like to inform you about because we are very keen on improving this issue;” E-Sisi emphasized by counting the initiatives taken by the state in that regard, ranging from setting a national strategy for human rights, starting a national dialogue with the opposition parties, and convening a presidential pardon committee to look into cases of political prisoners.

To that, President Biden responded with applause. That was not only to praise the Egyptian state’s efforts to improve its human rights record but most importantly to thank Egypt for its regional role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and its stance towards the war in Ukraine.

“Egypt has been, by the way, a key mediator, and I appreciate what we were able to do about Gaza and the strong counterterrorism partnership that we have established;” stressed President Biden. “In the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Egypt has spoken up strongly at the United Nations, and that is appreciated very much as well.”

Over 40 years, cooperation between Egypt and the United States on security and geo-strategic issues has been sustained, despite obvious disagreements over issues related to human rights and democratization. Right now, Egypt is America's best buddy among all the Arab countries, especially after recent tensions with OPEC+ leadership over oil production volumes. It is in the best interest of Egypt and the United States to remain strong partners. The United States' success in the Middle East is mostly dependent on Egypt's cooperation. On the flip side, Egypt's security and political stability is so correlated to a close relationship with the United States.

The newly found balance between pressuring for human rights reforms and collaborating on solving regional strategic impasses is going to shape the relationship between the Egyptian leadership of President El-Sisi and the United States Administration of President Biden for years to come. State supporters and opposition in both countries should accept and adapt to this reality.