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Rebooting US-Egyptian ties
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 08 - 2018

On Wednesday 25 July the US State Department announced that $195 million of military aid, withheld because of concerns over Egypt's human rights record and ties with North Korea, would be unfrozen.
A State Department official said the decision to forward the funds was in recognition of “steps Egypt has taken over the last year in response to specific US concerns”.
Neither the US State Department nor Egyptian officials detailed the “specific US concerns” to which Egypt had responded.
The decision followed a visit to Washington last week by an Egyptian delegation comprising senior diplomatic, intelligence and military officials.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the United States, as well as international human rights groups, lobbied against the US administration reconsidering the decision to freeze the funds which had been taken by former US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Congress members were encouraged to hold a special hearing on Egypt's human rights record, calling as witnesses figures well known for their hostility towards the removal of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid told reporters that Egypt had been informed in advance of the US decision but preferred the announcement be made by Washington. He said the decision “reflects the special relationship between the two countries” which dates back 40 years, to when the US mediated the first peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.
Abu Zeid said Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri had received a phone call on 24 July from his US counterpart, US Secretary of State and former CIA Director Mike Pompeo, during which the political and economic aspects of Egyptian-US relations and other issues of common interest were discussed.
Abu Zeid said Pompeo had stressed “the United States' keenness on enhancing its strategic relationship with Egypt” during the call and reiterated Washington's commitment to supporting Egypt politically and economically through “established cooperation mechanisms between the two countries, including the US Economic and Military Aid Programme, so as to bolster Egypt's capabilities in the face of security challenges, and boost regional stability”.
According to Abu Zeid, Pompeo also noted “the upcoming period will witness further US support for Egypt, and the elimination of any obstacles in its way”.
Abu Zeid said Pompeo had hailed Cairo's efforts to promote Palestinian reconciliation and its addressing of regional issues in a manner that promotes stability.
In response, Shoukri stressed that Egypt attached special importance to fostering ties with the United States and stressed Egypt's keenness on continuing communication, coordination and consultation with Washington on developments in the Middle East, ways to promote peace and stability and overcome regional challenges.
Abu Zeid said Pompeo also said he was looking forward to meeting Shoukri in Washington during the first week of August to continue their consultations over ways to strengthen coordination between the two countries. In return, Shoukri said he was looking forward to his Washington visit.
Among US concerns that led to the freeze of military aid was the conviction of several human rights activists, including Americans, after they were tried in absentia in 2012 on charges of illegally funding local human rights groups. The Court of Cassation recently announced a retrial for all those involved in the case.
US media also quoted US officials as saying Washington was unhappy with a new law, approved by parliament and ratified by the president, regulating the activities of NGOs. Before ties improved between the US and North Korea, culminating in the unprecedented summit between the leaders of the two countries in Singapore in late June, Washington had also complained about Cairo's ties with Pyongyang. Cairo insisted its ties with North Korea were limited.
A US State Department official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity did not cite specific steps Egypt had taken to address US human rights concerns but said preserving US security cooperation with Egypt, which includes countering militant groups, was part of the rationale for releasing the funds.
“We have serious concerns regarding human rights and governance in Egypt and we will continue to use the many tools at our disposal to raise these concerns,” the official said.
“At the same time, strengthened security cooperation is important to US national security. Secretary Pompeo determined that releasing these funds is important to supporting these needs and continuing to improve our partnership with Egypt.”
The $195 million in aid was part of the US government's fiscal year 2016 budget. The funds, known as Foreign Military Financing, are earmarked to buy US-made military equipment.
Retired Major General Yehia Kedwani, deputy head of parliament's Defence and Security Committee, praised the US decision to unfreeze the funds.
“It was a slap in the face of the enemies of the nation and members of the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist group,” he said.
Brotherhood members “formed lobby groups in the United States, in cooperation with the Qatari regime, to damage the reputation of the Egyptian state by fabricating information on the human rights situation in Egypt,” alleged Kedwani, adding that the Brotherhood spent millions of dollars hiring Washington lobbyists.
Hafez Abu Seada, president of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights and a member of the National Human Rights Council, praised Washington's decision, saying it “put ties between the two countries back on track and reflects US understanding of the challenges facing Egypt, especially in terms of the vicious battle it faces against terrorist groups”.
Egypt and the United States have been strategic partners for decades. Former Democratic president Barack Obama, however, did not welcome the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood government despite widespread popular protests against their rule on 30 June, 2013. The situation changed when Donald Trump took office. Trump has repeatedly expressed his appreciation of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his efforts to combat terrorism.


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