On July 26, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo lifted restrictions on a $195 million aid package to Egypt. In August 2017, his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, suspended the aid package over human rights concerns. The U.S. move came in response to a May 2017 law restricting the operations of more than 47,000 Egyptians NGOs, many of which focus on human rights. American officials also wanted President Abdel Fattah el Sisi to overturn several convictions from 2013 against NGO employees involved in democracy promotion in Egypt; seventeen of those convicted are Americans. In response to the aid suspension, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry issued a harsh statement, calling it a “misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relations that have bound the two countries for decades.”
The aid package allows Egypt to buy U.S.-made military equipment. In allowing it to go through, without any changes to Egypt’s human rights practices, the United States has decided to willfully ignore these abuses and further support Sisi’s military regime.
Turning a blind eye to a country’s human rights record is not a new American foreign policy approach. In 2017, for example, Amnesty International released a report highlighting the government of Chad’s repressive policies and human rights violations. Despite this, the United States has continued to provide military training to the country’s troops. Israel is, however, the most obvious example of U.S. hypocrisy on human rights. Despite Israel’s war crimes and violations of international law, it os the largest recipient of U.S. aid since World War II.
In a 2017 interview with Al Jazeera, Robert Springborg, a visiting professor at King’s College London, explained why the United States continues to provide aid to Egypt, focusing on its status as a key geo-strategic partner, support for Israel’s regional dominance, and help in advancing American counterterrorism interests, particularly in the Sinai. But, in providing military aid to Egypt, the U.S. government will only further embolden the government’s human rights violations and help entrench the military’s power inside the country.
Human Rights Watch recently described Egypt’s human rights situation as the most serious in its modern history. Over the past year, Sisi’s atrocious human rights record has only worsened, and includes heavily regulating the media and jailing journalists and activists. Since the 2013 ousting of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, the military’s power has also grown. From an economic perspective, over the last four years, revenues at Egypt’s military firms have substantially increased, helping to extend the army’s reach inside Egypt.
Rather than supporting a government that exploits its own people, the United States should put its money where its mouth is and continue to withhold military aid from Egypt.