Barack Obama withheld aid to Egypt as a punitive measure, even though the new leadership had inherited a country on the brink of Muslim Brotherhood-engendered chaos and bankruptcy. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait stretched out a generous helping hand to keep the most populous Arab nation afloat.
President Trump invited his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to the White House in April to “reboot relations.” He described the Egyptian president as “a fantastic guy” and assured him he had “a great friend and ally in the US and me.” He also indicated that he would label the Brotherhood a terrorist group, only to backtrack.
If I were in El-Sisi’s shoes, I might be thinking: “With friends like these, who needs enemies?” Trump’s “kiss” reminds me of the Godfather’s — the kiss of death. His buddy-buddy stance toward Vladimir Putin has led to sanctions against Russia and he is now threatening a trade war with China, whose President Xi Jinping he described as “a very special person.”
On the very day that Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner arrived in Cairo to discuss Middle East peace and ways of solidifying US-Egyptian relations, the State Department informed the Egyptian government that most of the aid to Egypt mandated under the Camp David Agreement is to be suspended over human rights concerns — specifically a new NGO law approved by the Egyptian parliament that restricts the activities of non-governmental organizations to developmental and social work. The law was passed primarily to prevent NGOs funneling funds to the Muslim Brotherhood and its terrorist affiliates.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said the decision was “a misjudgment of the nature of the strategic relations” between allies, and showed a “lack of understanding of the importance of supporting the stability and success of Egypt.”
On Thursday, the Egyptian leader received a call from President Trump, who expressed his desire to improve the relationship and overcome any obstacles, and affirmed the strength of friendship between Egypt and the US. Nice sentiments surely cannot heal the wounds of such a humiliating punch that serves to embolden the Brotherhood’s goals.
El-Sisi has admitted on many occasions that although his country is on the road to democracy, he is not in a position to loosen-up on civil society as long as Egypt is under attack and its improving economy remains fragile. Several Christian churches have been bombed, and hundreds of civilians, soldiers and policemen have been killed.
It makes no sense to crack down on a country battling terrorists in the northern Sinai and being forced to protect its porous border with Libya from Daesh infiltrators while asking that same country to be an intermediary in the Israel-Palestine conflict — unless we assume that the US harbors covert geopolitical ambitions under the cover of human rights.
When Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is fighting an insurgency in Sinai, facing Muslim Brotherhood-inspired disruption and rebuilding a fragile economy, now is no time for Washington to withdraw support.
Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor
Are we to seriously imagine that US government officials and politicians are losing sleep over the rights of Egyptians, who are free to elect a new president next year? Turkey has detained 100,000 of its own citizens and arrested almost half that number with little said. The war on drugs waged by the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, has led to thousands of extra-judicial killings, yet the Philippines can look forward to a US grant worth $433 million next year. The worst state-sponsor of terrorism on the planet, Iran, received a lucrative deal that certainly was not conditional on its human rights record.
In short, there is a marked discrepancy in the way the US and the UK treat Egypt and other countries. When France, Germany, Belgium and Turkey were attacked and implemented stringent anti-terrorism measures — emergency law in the case of France and Turkey — they rightly received an outpouring of sympathy and offers of assistance. Egypt, on the other hand, gets only blame.
I have to wonder who is really in charge of the US government. Was Trump even behind the suspension of aid or was his arm twisted by the State Department, which has been operating from a different playbook, or by a few Republican politicians, led by Senator Lindsey Graham, who continually look for excuses to hammer Egypt?
Graham and his usual companion Senator John McCain visited Cairo in 2013 and held a press conference at which they demanded the release of the ousted former president Muhammad Mursi and referred to the people’s revolution as a coup. They were politely shown the door.
Egypt fought for its independence from Britain. Gamal Abdel Nasser refused to be under the boot of any big power and El-Sisi is cut from the same cloth. Obama’s hostility forced Cairo toward Moscow to update its weaponry and Russia and Egypt are negotiating a contract to build a nuclear power plant on the outskirts of Alexandria.
Amid a climate of anti-Russian hysteria in the US, could this be one of the driving factors behind the US government’s attempt to bring Egypt to heel? If so, it will not work but may have the opposite effect to that intended. The US has reneged on a clause in the Camp David agreement and has thus handed Cairo the right to either withdraw or renegotiate.
I am not privy to the underlying reasons behind Washington’s attempts to undermine Egypt’s fortunes, but I still remember a lecture given by a former member of the Rand Corporation before the US defense policy board advisory committee in July 2002. The paper, entitled “Expel Saudis from Arabia,” was summarized this: “Iraq is the tactical pivot, Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot, Egypt the prize.”
• Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad.