When it comes to Egypt, the United States has long favored the path of least resistance. Unwilling to take serious steps to confront the Egyptian government’s human rights abuses from the Hosni Mubarak era to the present or its own complicity in supporting Cairo through military and economic aid, Washington has often relied on pro-forma criticism of Egypt’s record while largely ignoring the problem in the interest of preserving an uneasy political-military status quo in the region. U.S. President Joe Biden promised to change that course but so far has done the opposite.
Cairo’s role in brokering Middle East peace agreements, its cooperation in fighting terrorism, and its preferential treatment of U.S. warships and military aircraft transiting the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace have always outweighed any concern about the authoritarian nature of Egypt’s government and its massive human rights abuses. Egypt’s role in “regional stability” was all that mattered. As a former U.S. diplomat who served in Cairo, I had to write that talking point for visiting administration officials and members of Congress, or some version of it, hundreds of times.
The problem is Egypt’s human rights abuses, compounded by poor governance and economic mismanagement, have accelerated domestic instability and terrorism. As the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State in the Sinai Peninsula have demonstrated, that can have far-reaching regional impacts. Indeed, nonprofit Human Rights First noted “[Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s] brutal crackdown on dissent is fueling ISIS’s growth, as the group recruits supporters in Egypt’s prisons at an accelerating rate.” If Biden is serious about human rights, he now has the leverage to put pressure on Egypt by denying a $300 million security assistance package.
This op-ed was publish by Foreign Policy on July 20, 2021. To finish reading it click here