Through his arms deal did Biden disappoint Egyptian detainees?

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The US State Department announced its approval to sell tactical missiles to Egypt worth $197 million, indicating that it would like to support a “strategic partner” from outside NATO.

This deal came as a crack in the broad hopes of Egyptian detainees regarding US President Joe Biden’s pressure on General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime to improve human rights conditions in the country and release them.

The US State Department has taken a decision to approve the initial sale of a possible sale of Block 2 tactical missiles (RAM) and related equipment. The Defence Security Cooperation Agency, affiliated with the Pentagon, provided the required certificates to notify congress of this potential sale according to a statement by this agency. The statement stated that the Egyptian government has requested to purchase up to 168 RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles, as well as shipping and storage containers, technical documents, and technical and logistical support services. He added that the proposed sale “supports the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a country that is a major non-NATO ally and which remains an important strategic partner in the Middle East.”

The operation will also support “the Egyptian navy and provide significantly improved defence capabilities to the Egyptian coastal areas and the Suez Canal entrances.” The statement emphasised that the proposed sale and support “will not change the basic military balance in the region.” This deal comes days after a letter sent by Egyptian detainees to the Biden administration, in which they demanded that the US administration play a substantial role in putting an end to their suffering, which has reached its eighth year.

The Egyptian detainees’ families have placed high hopes on Biden’s ascension to power, especially after making his famous statement that there will be no more blank cheques for Trump’s favourite dictator. Over the course of Trump’s four years in power, the administration tried to avoid any criticism of the al-Sisi regime. Despite the significant increase in human rights violations, the US administration remained silent, which observers considered a green light from the US administration for al-Sisi to move forward with the violation of human rights.

The Egyptian regime relied heavily on the support provided by the Trump administration, especially after the apparent cooling in Egyptian-American relations during the era of former President Barack Obama. In the wake of the military coup in 2013, al-Sisi concluded several massive military deals with several European countries, the USA, and Russia, which aimed to buy legitimacy for his regime.

Observers say al-Sisi appears to have chosen to do the same with the Biden administration as well. Rights activists criticise the choice of many Western regimes and governments to give priority to material interests over the principles of victory for human rights, arms sales, and dealing with a bloody dictatorial regime such as the al-Sisi regime. But observers say it is too early to consider that the Biden administration has chosen interests and arms deals rather than principles and a focus on human rights.

An Egyptian journalist based in Washington told Egypt Watch that the Biden administration has not yet fully drawn up its policies in the Middle East. Although that deal may be an indication, it is not conclusive evidence. The Egyptian journalist, who wished to remain anonymous, indicated that the US State Department said that its approval of potential arms sales to Egypt does not impede the US ability to continue focusing on the human rights record in the Arab country. The Egyptian journalist mentioned that the sale came to serve the interests of the United States of America in order to protect navigation in the Suez Canal area and the Red Sea, as this area is of strategic importance to America.

However, a human rights source in Cairo expressed his concerns about the signs that this deal bears, especially as it came in conjunction with reports of the authorities in Egypt re-arresting relatives of the Egyptian-American human rights activist Mohamed Soltan.Last Sunday, plain clothes forces affiliated with the Egyptian National Security Agency arrested six of Mohamed Soltan’s family members. Soltan’s lawyer described the arrests as an “attempt to intimidate and silence his client.”

The Egyptian authorities previously released Soltan’s relatives immediately after Biden’s success, but they arrested them again in conjunction with that deal. The US State Department said it is “in contact with the Egyptian government about reports of Soltan’s relatives’ arrest. We will not tolerate attacks or threats by foreign governments against American citizens or their family members. Such behaviour is against our values. It is against our interests, and it severely undermines our bilateral partnerships around the world.” Egypt receives annual military aid from the United States, amounting to $1.3 billion. However, the aid sparked controversy among congress members recently, as some of them demanded an end to it or a part of it because of what they described as “human rights violations” in Egypt.