Policymakers, Analysts React to Resumption of Military Aid to Egypt

Photo Credit: World Tribune

During a Tuesday phone call with President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, President Barack Obama announced that a hold on military equipment imposed in 2013 would be lifted “in the interest of U.S. national security.” F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tanks will be delivered in the coming months. White House officials told the New York Times that threats to Egypt’s domestic security were the main justification for releasing the hold: “Given that higher level of threat, we felt it particularly important to make sure Egypt had all of the equipment it could possibly need to defend itself from these threats.” Addressing human rights concerns, National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan stated, “We will continue to engage with Egypt frankly and directly on its political trajectory, and to raise human rights and political reform issues at the highest levels.”

The decision to fully resume the $1.3 billion in annual military aid comes with several conditions intended to reshape the United States’ bilateral assistance to Egypt. Starting in 2018, the United States will suspend Egypt’s right to “cash-flow financing,” the purchasing power to buy American arms on future credit that is currently available only to Egypt and Israel. “The Egypt assistance package has become a tightly tangled knot over the past 30 years,” Cole Bockenfeld, Advocacy Director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), told The Telegraph. “Rescinding cash-flow financing is a long overdue step that will allow policymakers to eventually straighten out this outdated assistance relationship.”Additionally, in 2018, bilateral military aid will be divided into four categories—counterterrorism, border security, maritime security, and Sinai Peninsula security, as opposed to the broad jurisdiction which Egypt currently has over U.S. military aid. White House officials told the New York Times that these changes will give the United States “more flexibility” in terms of withholding aid to Egypt in the future, if necessary.

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Chairwoman of the House State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, called the decision “long overdue.” Granger said she does not “believe it has been in the best interest of U.S. national security of regional stability in the Middle East to withhold vital military equipment to such an important ally in the region.” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also welcomed the decision: “Providing [Egypt] with the means to protect Egyptians and Americans from the threat of terrorism is the right thing to do.”

Analysts are divided over the outcome of the long-awaited decision. Michael Hanna of The Century Foundation called the decision to resume aid “a major, long overdue step.” Eric Trager of the Washington Institute praised the decision, tweeting, “Proponents of withholding aid to #Egypt should now ask themselves what, exactly, that policy achieved.” Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment wrote that the decision sends “mixed signals” to Egypt; it is, on one hand, a “reluctant endorsement of repression, but [a] shredding of [the Egyptian] generals’ credit card.” “Unsurprisingly, in this case you see that national security priorities, broadly defined, virtually trump everything else,” Washington Director of Human Rights Watch Sarah Margon said. “And that’s a very myopic short-term approach to fighting terrorism.”