Hidden political goals: why US military aid to Egypt is immune to scrutiny

Mohammed Al-Batawy
July 10, 2019

A President has gone. Human rights conditions have worsened. Political conditions have deteriorated. US military aid to Egypt is immune to the scrutiny the media thinks it is subject to.

Military aid to Egypt amounts to $1.3 billion, along with $815 million in economic aid. While economic aid is subject to suspension according to  human rights or political conditions, US military aid to Egypt has been disbursed at a steady rate, even during times of security and political turmoil.

In August 2018, Washington released $195 million in military aid to Cairo, which had been suspended in a rare step. Washington said the suspension was made on grounds of “human rights violations” and laws concerning NGOs in Egypt.

However, observers ruled that out as the release of the aid did not coincide with any improvement in these “violations of rights.” Media reports pointed out that in August 2017 the US State Department hinted that the decision to withhold part of the aid to Egypt may have been due to Cairo’s cooperation with Pyongyang.

That is why one of the reasons for the continuation of US military aid to Egypt is that Washington, through this aid, can dictate its terms to Cairo over who it can cooperate with militarily and who it can’t.

Analysts also believe the US will not cut off aid to Egypt as it helps to boost US strategic objectives in the region. For example, American military aircraft is permitted to fly through Egyptian military airspace, and hundreds of US warships have been given permits to cross the Suez Canal.

In addition, Egypt is committed to purchasing military equipment from the United States. America provided Egypt with roughly $7.3 billion between 1999 and 2005 under the Foreign Military Financing Programme. Egypt spent about half of that amount, or $3.8 billion, on American heavy military equipment.

Alongside US military objectives behind aid to Egypt, the stability of US military aid to Egypt also has political objectives. Through the consistent commitment of US administrations to US aid, Washington has always been close to military men, who traditionally hold senior positions in the country, including the Presidency.

For decades, Egyptian regimes have consistently appointed army leaders in leadership positions in the state, as governors, ministers, and heads of companies. 

In September 2018, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi brought the total of governors who came from the military to 19, out of about 25. Military men control most ministries, bodies and are district heads. 

US aid includes the training of Egyptian officers, some of whom travel to the United States to attend training courses there. These courses are necessary to upgrade them to higher ranks, and they go on to fill prestigious political and civilian positions.

Even the position of the President remains the monopoly of the generals in Egypt. The late Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi is an exception. He ruled the country one year after winning the 2012 presidential election.

Al-Sisi himself went on training courses in America, then later became the head of military intelligence, then commander of the army, and then President.

US aid has allowed Washington to remain close to members of the Egyptian Armed Forces, as future leaders who would take up top positions and control the Egyptian state.

Therefore, regardless of the position of the US State Department on the practices of any Egyptian regime, US military aid remains an important priority for US administrations to stay close to the future leaders of the Egyptian state.