The United States announced in April that the Obama administration is restoring military aid to Egypt. For most of the past half-century, the United States has maintained a strategic relationship with Egypt, predicated on military assistance ever since Egypt signed a peace accord with Israel in return for guaranteed aid in 1979. More recently, the United States began withholding military assistance in July 2013 after the first democratically elected president in Egyptian history, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was deposed in a military coup. The Obama administration, according to its most recent announcement, will provide $1.3 billion in military aid. The United States has long provided support in the form of military or economic assistance to dictators all over the world with questionable human rights records, rampant corruption and no real intentions of imposing political reform for the sake of security. The United States’ decision to renew military assistance to Egypt is no different, demonstrating how the United States prefers security over promoting the values it claims to regard so highly.
The new Egyptian president, Fatah al Sisi, adopted a more dictator-esque rule than even former autocrat Hosni Mubarak. Egypt’s fluctuating governmental classifications have exasperated the Obama administration since al Sisi assumed control. His acquisition of power seemed to fit the definition of a coup; however, President Obama hesitated to call it such. Labeling it a coup would have required the United States to cut humanitarian aid, a move the he was not willing to make for fear that any damage done to the U.S.-Egypt strategic relationship would be irreparable. The United States was hopeful that the cessation of military aid would force Egypt to “take steps toward restoring democracy.” Instead, the U.S.-Egypt relationship is a prime example of how the United States covets security over promoting its values.
The United States has several reasons behind reinstating the military aid to Egypt. One reason is for security purposes: the United States feels Egypt is a key ally in its fight against Islamic State. Egypt is essentially saying exactly what the U.S. wants to hear in regards to its fears in the Middle East: it proposed a coalition fight against Islamic State and the Houthis in Yemen and possibly Libya. Thus, Egypt’s goals in the Middle East appear to align closely with those of the Obama administration. Al Sisi is also posturing Egypt in a more active role to “responding to the instability in the Middle East” in order to gain what it wants from the United States: for military aid to resume. Overall, the United States has a sense of urgency to restore the strategic U.S.-Egypt relationship, one that has long defined U.S. policy in this volatile region. The United States is restoring military assistance simply to ensure that Egypt remains stable and loyal to the United States, and is, thus, exploiting the relationship to ensure that its own interests are being met.
Republican Mac Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, reiterated this fact in his statement that the United States does “encourage the government of Egypt to continue its democratic process.” However, he adds, “Egypt is also a strong regional ally…Maintaining that relationship must be a priority for the U.S.” Therefore, the United States is willing to forego the implementation of its values such as democracy and human rights in the name of achieving security. Throughout the Cold War, the United States became obsessed with the containment policy in its foreign relations, targeting and isolating communists to prevent its spread outside the Soviet Union. Even in the post-Cold War world, the United States has shifted its focus to terrorism and extremism. The animosity of the United States towards such ideologies consumed much of the foreign policy in both of these historical periods, creating an almost blind preoccupation at the detriment of other events.
The United States was willing to support and fund dictators that pretended to endorse such values as democracy and human rights when, in truth, they simply used the values as a disguise to gain financial and security support. The U.S. was willing to overlook indicators in order to achieve some semblance of stability in regions that were extremely volatile. Conversely, stability often comes at the expense of the United States promoting the values it holds so close to its identity. As Freedom House reported, “When the United States downplays human rights concerns, it is at best buying short-term advantages at the expense of long-term interests.” In other words, the United States is “best served by pushing for reforms and building ties with political opposition and civil society” to prepare for the hopeful democratic transition” but instead, security concerns often prevail.
The U.S., in this case, has decided to overlook the “coup” from July 2013 and the imprisonment of political opposition leaders and former Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi to ensure its own security interests. Resuming military aid is essentially rewarding a military dictator who came to power in a way that violates American values (democracy promotion) and has led Egypt to backslide back into its old authoritarian ways instead of transitioning toward democracy as was hoped in the wake of the Arab Spring. The United States, then, must learn that it can promote democratic values and human rights in unison with pursuing its economic and security interests, which usually take precedence. It is time the United States holds longstanding autocratic allies accountable and implements these values into its relationship with more authoritarian regimes.