The US has been giving Abdel Fatah el Sisi US military aid with no strings attached, but the bonanza may be coming to an end.
As it becomes increasingly likely that Joe Biden will defeat the incumbent Trump to become America’s 46th president, the regime of Abdel Fattah El Sisi is becoming ever more uncomfortable.
Without going into too much detail, Sisi’s information apparatus has been regurgitating the leaked Clinton emails to concoct an absurdly byzantine conspiracy that places Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and, of course, Joe Biden at the heart of a conspiracy to undermine Egypt on behalf of Qatar and, the root of all evil – to those who accept the Sisian worldview – the Muslim Brotherhood.
Though the state-sponsored conspiracies will no doubt capture the imagination of those predisposed to already believing it, many others will notice that fear is the prime mover here.
It was in July this year that Biden tweeted his relief at the Sisi regime’s release of the US student Mohamed Amashah, after 500 days of detention without trial. Biden also referenced the ‘[arrest], torture and exile’ of the late activist Sarah Hegazi and the journalist Mohamed Soltan.
Even referencing these people would be considered by Sisi to be an attack on Egypt. But Biden, took it a step further, writing "no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’."
This obviously references the $1.3 billion in military aid the US gives to Egypt every year, making it the second-highest recipient of such aid behind only Israel.
Biden’s words, written as they were while he was running to be the next president, were a direct threat to Sisi and his human rights record.
There has also been a distinct anti-Sisi turn in the US Congress, with 55 Democratic senators, and the independent senator Bernie Sanders, recently signing a letter signalling that Sisi’s human rights abuses will not be tolerated if Joe Biden wins the presidency.
The letter comes in response to the most recent onslaught against pro-democracy and civil rights activists, with at least 900 being arrested since the beginning of scattered anti-regime protests in September. This comes on the back of 7 solid years of executions, extra-judicial killings, disappearances, mass imprisonments, torture and crackdowns on all opposition in the country.
The congressman responsible for the letter, Ro Khanna, intimated to the Washington Post that unless the Sisi regime ‘changed their ways’, the military aid being cut or suspended could not be ruled out.
Sisi has been given a blank cheque without censure from Trump, but this didn’t just begin with Trump. In fact, it didn’t even begin with Sisi. It was Anwar Sadat that at the Camp David Accords, which brought peace and normalisation with Israel, placed Egypt firmly into the US sphere of influence.
It was there that the US-Egypt alliance was formed and in the resulting years, under both Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, US presidents have actively funded Egypt’s brutality against its own people. As long as they weren’t harming Israel or any of the US’ other allies, Egyptian lives simply did not matter.
Barack Obama was no exception. Indeed, Biden was no exception. It was, after all the then vice-president Biden who infamously said in 2011, during the January 25 revolution against Mubarak’s 30-year-old brutal tyrannical rule, that he would not refer to Mubarak as a dictator. The fact that as he spoke those words, the US-armed Central Security Forces murdered Egyptian revolutionaries simply adds distinct malice to what many would consider to be a hapless statement.
But there was nothing ‘hapless’ about it. Biden was acutely aware of the tyrannical nature of the Mubarak regime, but he was simply upkeeping the decades-old US policy of supporting allies like Mubarak to the bitter end – no matter the scale of their domestic viciousness.
It was under Obama and not Trump that when Sisi seized power in a brutal military coup against the late Mohamed Morsi, the first freely elected president of Egypt, that the US flat out refused to call it a coup.
Why? Because, under the US’s own laws, they cannot provide economic aid to any regime that came to power by way of a coup.
Though there is some liberal mythology over the matter, Obama only very briefly delayed military aid to Sisi until he became president. The US then congratulated him on his anointment to the presidential throne and promptly released the aid.
Egypt is no longer the key to the region
One can be forgiven, then, for being a tad sceptical at the idea that Biden will cut military aid to Egypt. But is it really unthinkable?
Sisi, clearly takes it seriously. In fact, over the past few years, but hastened in recent months, Sisi has been pivoting Egypt away from the US and towards fellow authoritarian forces like Russia and China. Though the likelihood of a Biden presidency – and the changing winds in Congress, could have something to do with this – there is also the general reality that many of the factors that gave Egypt a unique selling point to the US no longer apply.
Egypt’s geopolitical importance lay mostly in its size and standing in the region, being the largest Arabic-speaking country and something of a sociopolitical hegemon. But now it is a shadow of its former Nasserist self. Sisi has run the country into the ground, beyond the nationalist self-delusions of him and his supporters.
Its reputation in the region is in tatters, with failed intervention in Libya, diplomatic defeats to Ethiopia and the loss of its status as the main ‘Arab’ fig leaf for Israel’s hegemony over the Palestinian territories. It can’t even keep full control of the Sinai.
Never before in any era has money talked as much as it does in this one –countries like the UAE, with their vast petrodollars, have not only gazumped Egypt’s old power, but they have even normalised relations with Israel, robbing Egypt even of that ‘special relationship’.
In combination with the US, in general, taking a more isolationist tone and its declining role in the Middle East, suddenly US military aid to Egypt doesn’t seem as important it did even a decade ago.
It remains to be seen how the US-Egypt relationship will play out. But should Biden be successful, and if he truly wants to banish what Trump represents globally, ending America’s underwriting of Sisi’s totalitarianism in Egypt would be a good start.
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