Why The West Still Supports Egypt

HewarBy Nehad Ismail.

The United States has denounced Egypt’s newly expanded counter terrorism law and expressed concern about its potential impact on human rights in the country.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a law on 16th August expanding the government’s surveillance powers and, according to critics, muzzle dissent and target opponents. Human rights activists have accused Sisi of leading an increasingly repressive regime.

However, despite the American denunciation, Egypt remains a solid military ally of the United States. The US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo on Sunday 2nd to meet his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. He said that US-Egyptian relations were returning to a “stronger base” in bilateral ties despite tensions and human rights concerns.

In a statement that day the US State Dept noted that the two sides had “renewed their commitment to the strategic relationship and resolved to take practical and specific steps to consolidate it. They further stressed that a long-term and strong Egypt-U.S. partnership, anchored in the common goals of their strategic ties, is vital for the peace, stability and prosperity of the region. The two sides agreed to hold the next round of the Strategic Dialogue in Washington, D.C. in 2016”.

This came just after the US delivered eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt as part of a military support package. At the same time Kerry acknowledged stress in the US-Egypt relationship over human rights and said the US would continue to press Egypt on the arrests of dissidents and journalists and mass trials.

The US moves come as some analysts argue that the new regime is no better than the old. For example a headline in The Atlantic January read: Is Egypt on the Verge of Another Uprising? The article argues that the regime the Egyptians overthrew 4 years ago has returned. “In the face of relentless pressure and violence from the authorities, most of the revolutionary movements have

Edge of Tahrir Sq. 2011

Edge of Tahrir Sq. 2011

been side-lined or snuffed out”.

Following the revolution the Muslim Brotherhood won the November 2011 elections and the presidential elections of June 2012.

Having been declared the fifth President of Egypt Mohamad Morsi, instead of acting as President for the country acted as a political party chief. He swiftly moved to get rid of Army Chief Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, and replaced him with the younger General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Morsi then cancelled a constitutional declaration aimed at curbing his powers. In November 2012 he stripped constitutional court judges of all powers. Secular and liberal Egyptians felt excluded and disenfranchised. Once again the people protested and denounced Morsi as the new Mubarak. The economic situation got worse, prices of essential commodities shot up, the country suffered repeated power cuts and fuel shortages. The protests grew, culminating in June 2013 with millions of Egyptians assembling in Cairo. The army intervened, backed by liberals, the Copts and Al-Azhar Authority (the highest religious authority in the Muslim Sunni world) and Morsi was removed from office by the army.

Mohamed Morsi

Mohamed Morsi

On May this year a court pronounced death sentences on Morsi and more than 100 other people over a mass prison break in 2011. Liberals, seculars and the Coptic Christians welcomed el-Sisi’s decisive action.

However, many observers and analysts agree with The Atlantic view, that the harsh tactics used by the security forces are taking Egyptians back to the days of the Mubarak era. The courts have lost their independence and impartiality. They judiciary has been politicised and is seen as a tool of the regime. The chronic problems of poverty, unemployment, acute housing shortages, and inadequate health care system remain unaddressed and even got worse.

So why does the US not criticise el-Sisi?

According to a recent analysis by Bloomberg “President Barack Obama’s decision to lift the partial embargo on military aid to Egypt is a harsh nod to reality. Since taking power in a military coup in 2013, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi has been every bit the tyrant, showing utter disregard for civil rights. And the Obama administration has long claimed it would lift the embargo only if Egypt showed “credible progress” toward restoring democracy.”

Yet despite all of this, the US-Egyptian ties are warming after two years of strain, doubt and uncertainty.

Egypt has been considered a solid ally to the West since the early 1970s when President Sadat expelled Soviet advisers and reoriented Egypt westwards.

Then in 1977 Sadat paid a historic visit to Israel, beginning the process that led to the 1979 peace treaty, the return of occupied Sinai Peninsula and Egypt became a major beneficiary of US financial aid. By 1991 they were so close that Egypt joined the allied coalition to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait.

Egypt is repressive, it is authoritarian but that’s due to the existence of terrorist threats. It still has a strong civil society and almost independent vibrant media. It is the biggest Arab country. It is a robust linchpin in the fight against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, and the West supports Egypt efforts in defeating al Qaeda and ISIS in the Sinai. Despite all the short-comings Egypt remains a regional power and a bulwark against Islamic extremism and terrorism. Hence, the US talks about human rights, but also about ‘common goals’ as it delivers fighter jets to Cairo.

Nehad Ismail is a UK based commentator on Middle Eastern Issues

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2 Comments on "Why The West Still Supports Egypt"

  1. mahatmacoatmabag | 27th August 2015 at 12:49 pm | Reply

    The US needs to do only two things about Egypt,1) give Egypt the necessary military & civilian aid 2) keep out of Egypts internal affairs, Egypt is not a Western democracy & never will be one, it needs to be ruled by a moderate dictator backed by the military who will do the best to stabilise the economy, create more jobs, fight extremist terror, keep the peace with Israel & fight corruption. America must never repeat Obama’s tragic mistake started in his infamous Cairo speech which was widely understood as being supportive of the overthrow of Arab rulers allied with the West, since democracy has no chance of ever taking root in Arab states & to incite an uprising on the expectation of democracy coming about in a free election will once again bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power just as a free election brought Hamas to power in the Palestinian Authority & the election of Hitler to power in Germany.

  2. nehad ismail - United Kingdom | 28th August 2015 at 6:27 pm | Reply

    A number of tweets and emails I received in the last day or say suggest that I am justifying the regime’s repression and violations of human rights particularly the last paragraph.. My point is the West is prepared to do business with the regime regardless of its repressive policies and draconian laws. A careful reading of the article will show that I have not glossed over the regime’s bad behaviour. Two reasons the West supports El-Sisi. Historically Egypt has been a strong ally of the West and at the present the regime is fighting a war in the Sinai and in urban Cairo against Al-Qaeda and ISIS and for these reasons the West is supporting Egypt. I wrote an article in thewhatandthewhy on 27th May 2015 criticizing the death sentence pronounced by the Egyptian Courts against ex President Morsi.

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