WASHINGTON – In overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion on Tuesday, Senators and three panelists invited by the Appropriations Committee called for Congress to reexamine its $1.3 billion annual funding to Egypt. “When thousands of members of political opposition groups are imprisoned after sham trials; when members of civil society are falsely accused of salacious crimes and detained for years,” noted the top Subcommittee Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-VI). “When US officials and the independent press are denied access to areas US weapons are being used amid reports of war crimes,” the Vermont lawmaker asked what is the purpose of such massive US assistance to Cairo?
Repeatedly, panelists and Senators raised the new grisly video showing Egyptian security forces in the Sinai summarily executing a local resident who was not resisting as evidence of the regime’s blatant disregard for human rights norms. “As to with the taxpayer dollars we have, we are obligated to spend them wisely consistent with our values… We need to reshape the relationship in a way that is sustainable,” explained Subcommittee Chairman Lindsay Graham (R-SC). “I hope Egypt will take a new direction, not march towards Putin but march away from him: march back to the square where it all started.”
The panelists invited were Elliott Abrams, former deputy national security advisor during the George W. Bush administration, Dr. Michele Dunne, Senior Fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Tom Malinowski, former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy during the Obama presidency.
Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) asked the expert witnesses if cutting US aid to Egypt would damage Cairo’s strong current relationship with Israel? (The US dramatically boosted its assistance to Egypt due to Cairo’s 1978 peace treaty with Jerusalem). However, Abrams was unconvinced. “Good relations with Israel are in the interest of Egypt. The army understands that. As Senator Graham mentioned, they (Egypt) are getting help in the Sinai. I think the answer is no impact,” the former Bush official asserted. Dunne added that shortly after the 2013 military coup, when the Obama administration froze much of the US security assistance. “That was the heyday of Egyptian-Israeli relations. That really proved the point that the relationship now has its own logic and dynamic.” The Carnegie expert added that even with the tightening security ties, the people-to-people relationship between the Israelis and Egyptians under President Sisi is quite weak with almost zero study exchange and a relentless incitement campaign against the Jewish state in the Egyptian media often crossing into blatant anti-Semitism.
In contrast to virtually united Congressional hardening towards Sisi seen at the hearing, President Donald Trump warmly embraced the Egyptian leader in a recent Washington visit. The real estate mogul turned Commander in Chief declined to publicly raise any human rights abuses, a stark departure from previous administrations and praised Sisi for doing a “fantastic job.”
Given the “horrendous” state of human rights in Egypt, Abrams urged for an increase in the amount of aid frozen to Egypt from 15% to 20-25% of the America’s total aid package if there’s no significant improvements towards democracy and effective governance. Others suggested rerouting Washington’s current economic budgetary support to educational scholarship programs to ensure that America’s funding is not corrupted. During Sisi’s visit, he also met with numerous Jewish leaders at the Four Seasons and discussed Egypt’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
While Egypt played an important regional role during the era of President Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel Nasser, Malinowski noted that the current situation differs dramatically. “We’ve given Egypt more than $70 billion over the years, yet the last time I checked, there were no Egyptian F-16s helping us fight ISIS over Raqqa or Mosul” while Cairo’s influence in Libya has played a destructive role in the ongoing Libyan violence, said Malinowski.
Senators also quired the experts about a proposal for the U.S. to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, considered to be a request from Sisi. However, Abrams emphatically rejected such a proposal calling it a “foolish move.” Dunne added there is no evidence for the Egyptian Brotherhood to meet the US standard for terrorist activity and would “hand a major victory to ISIS because they are the ones who have argued that only violence works and therefore those Islamists who try to pursue change through political or other means are fools.”
After the session concluded, opponents of Sisi stood and cheered enthusiastically; officials from the Egyptian Embassy quickly darted from the room with scowls.