The United States prioritizes its interests and national security by supporting its relationship with Egypt, despite human rights issues. This marks a setback for groups that rely on human rights issues to exert external pressure on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime, especially the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates.
Human rights issues have not prevented the United States from continuing to provide significant foreign military aid to Egypt. Washington has stated that Cairo is crucial to American national security interests, while this stance deals a significant blow to those who use human rights issues to exert external pressure on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s regime, especially the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates.
Washington has only withheld $85 million of aid, as required by US law, pending Egypt making “clear and sustained progress” in releasing political prisoners, something the US says Cairo has not done. This withheld amount is a small portion of the $1.3 billion allocated to Egypt annually.
The United States has been providing Egypt with substantial military aid and other forms of support since signing a peace agreement with Israel in 1979. Cairo remains a close regional ally of Washington.
US officials have stated that the law allows for an additional $235 million to be withheld because this portion is also conditioned on Egypt meeting democracy and human rights requirements. However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used his authority to suspend these conditions.
A senior US State Department official briefed reporters on the decision, stating, “Egypt is a decisive voice on many issues throughout the region, and we are trying to work together towards achieving regional peace and security.”
Other officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, also said that the decision does not diminish the United States’ commitment to promoting human rights in Egypt. They added that Washington has engaged in “difficult conversations” with Cairo about its human rights record.
However, human rights groups, which have consistently accused Egypt of widespread violations under President el-Sisi’s government, said that the US decision sends the wrong message.
A coalition of 16 human rights groups, some of which are linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or liberal forces, including Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), said in a statement, “The administration has effectively conveyed to the el-Sisi government that it improved its human rights record over the past year, while in reality, things have deteriorated significantly.”
They added, “This undermines any efforts by the administration to address human rights concerns in Egypt and will only embolden el-Sisi further, threatening further instability in the country.”
El-Sisi denies the existence of political prisoners in Egypt, and he emphasizes the utmost importance of stability and security. He says that the authorities are working to enhance human rights by trying to provide basic needs such as jobs and housing.
Political analysts say that Western powers are hesitant to take drastic action against a strategic ally that has played a mediating role in longstanding issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, in addition to its control of the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important maritime shipping lanes.