For the first time during his presidency, Biden has returned to his initial stance regarding Egypt. The openly expressed hostility towards El-Sisi indicates a concerted effort to compel Egypt to align with the U.S. or face potential repercussions.
The United States has initiated increased scrutiny of Egyptian authorities concerning human rights abuses. Reportedly, the U.S. plans to withhold $85 million in military aid to Egypt due to Cairo’s failure to meet U.S. conditions regarding the release of political prisoners and other human rights violations.
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat, has called on President Joe Biden’s administration to withhold an additional $235 million in military aid, citing Egypt’s “egregious human rights record.” Two other sources familiar with the matter have indicated that a decision on the fate of the $235 million is pending.
Block the Money: Biden Strikes Egypt
Senator Murphy asserted, “The administration rightly decided to withhold that first tranche – $85 million tied to the release of political prisoners – because there’s just no question there has not been enough progress.”
Human rights organizations have long accused Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s leadership, of extensive human rights abuses, including torture and enforced disappearances.
The relationship between the United States and Egypt has been marked by several contentious issues. US President Joe Biden has often found himself at odds with the administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Historically, the United States has been a significant supplier of military aid and equipment to Egypt.
However, the Biden administration has raised concerns about the use of these arms, particularly in light of human rights abuses. This has led to discussions about potential restrictions on arms sales to Egypt.
During the Obama Administration, there was support for Mohamed Morsi, who came to power in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
El-Sisi vs. Democrats: No Place for Brotherhood
However, Morsi, a leader with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by a coup in 2013, leading to the rise of military general El-Sisi. Since then, Democrat leadership in the United States has not been on ‘perfectly’ good terms with Egypt, and American media has also been critical of El-Sisi.
Biden himself has emphasized the importance of democracy and good governance in the Middle East. His administration has pushed for free and fair elections and greater political inclusivity in the region. This stance may not align with El-Sisi’s more authoritarian style of governance.
Despite hopes in 2021 that tensions between the US and Egypt would improve, the situation did not change significantly, and Biden appears to be continuing with the original Democratic treatment of El-Sisi.
But, the United States’ concerns regarding Egypt have taken on a new dimension beyond El-Sisi’s human rights violations and providing assistance to Russia in the Ukraine conflict. The current focus of US apprehension is Egypt’s geopolitical strategy, which has placed Western dominance in a precarious position.
Egypt in BRICS: An Anxiety Issue for US
Egypt’s decision to join BRICS, a bloc primarily aimed at countering Western dominance in global financial and trade systems, is at the heart of this concern.
Egypt has received a formal invitation to become a BRICS member starting in 2024, alongside Iran, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Argentina, and Ethiopia. Egypt anticipates that its inclusion in BRICS will alleviate its foreign currency shortages and attract new investments.
What often goes unnoticed is that Egypt’s entry into BRICS opens up a strategic pathway for BRICS allies like Iran, India, Russia, and China to utilize the Suez Canal for their exports and trade routes.
Conversely, increasing tensions between the West and Egypt could lead to Egypt imposing blockades or obstacles on these passages for West-bound cargoes. Egypt’s geopolitical importance has now become exceptionally significant.
The United States isn’t troubled by Egypt’s deteriorating human rights situation, it fears that Egypt might exploit its strategic importance in the future to coerce the West.
Hence, to exert pressure, the U.S. has chosen to withhold current assistance funds, which may affect future investments at a time when Egypt’s economy is already in a weak position. This move sheds light on President Biden’s apprehension regarding the expansion of BRICS+.