The American strategy in dealing with the Sisi regime

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The US Congress approved providing $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, of which $320 million is conditional on improving human rights conditions, an increase of $20 million compared to the amount related to human rights conditions during 2021.

This comes about a month after the administration of President Joe Biden announced the cancellation of $130 million in military aid provided to Egypt after President El-Sisi’s regime failed to address “specific points related to human rights” raised by Washington.

Conditional Aid Details

The $320 million related to human rights situations are divided into two parts: $235 million conditional on protecting religious minorities and women’s rights, implementing reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly, holding Egyptian security forces to account for those found guilty of violating human rights, and investigating extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and the prosecution of perpetrators.

The US Secretary of State has the right to waive these requirements and provide these funds to Egypt, as he considers that this is important for the national security interest of the United States, which has happened more than once during the past several years. The second part of the pending human rights aid amounts to $85 million, and for its disbursement, the Secretary of State informs the relevant congressional committees that Egypt is making “continuous progress in releasing political prisoners, providing due legal procedures for detainees, and preventing intimidation and harassment of American citizens.”

Balance messages

Realizing the importance of the Egyptian role as an important strategic partner in the Middle East, the Biden administration is trying to strike a balance in its relationship with the Sisi regime. On the one hand, it does not want to lose it, and at the same time, it does not want to give it a blank check to commit massive human rights violations. This seemed clear over the past few months, as the US administration has sent conflicting messages about its relationship with the Sisi regime, but in fact, they were messages aimed at striking a balance in the relationship.

Last January, the US government agreed to sell weapons to Egypt worth $2.5 billion, in the largest deal of its kind between the two countries in the last decade. The State Department said at the time that the deal supports “the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally that remains an important strategic partner in the Middle East.” Around the same time, the US administration cancelled $130 million in military aid to Egypt due to the human rights situation, and now Congress is suspending $320 million in aid money for the same reason.

The US government wants to send a message to the Egyptian regime that we are interested in cooperating with you and supporting you, but the relationship will go much better if some points related to the file of rights and freedoms are addressed. Al-Sisi is aware of what the American messages are, but at the same time refuses to make more than “mock concessions,” such as preparing a human rights strategy that is not implemented on the ground, orrepealing the notorious emergency law while its articles are included in several new laws.

Al-Sisi personally believes that what led to the fall of former President Mubarak and his regime was his allowing a certain amount of political and civil liberties in the last decade of his rule to satisfy the West, which resulted in the growth of the opposition movement that eventually led to his overthrow. Therefore, his internal strategy is based on practising Extreme repression without allowing any outlet so as not to catch up with the Mubarak regime. In parallel, the regime is trying to present itself to the West as a trusted ally that can be relied upon in files such as the Palestinian issue or Libya, hoping that the West, especially the United States, will be satisfied with these qualities and set aside the human rights file or make it a marginal issue in inter-relations.