The Biden administration seeks to deepen US cooperation with Cairo on serious regional security issues as well as on economic and climate issues, a step closer to relations after years of political unrest in Egypt and accusations of human rights violations in the country.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Who broke into a series of talks known as Strategic Dialogue with Egypt, the first since 2015, highlighted a series of burning issues in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa on which Washington and Cairo are working together.
“One reason the relationship is strong is because we are not only maintaining it but constantly expanding our areas of cooperation,” Blinkan said in remarks he delivered Monday alongside his Egyptian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri.
The senior U.S. diplomat promised more frequent in-depth meetings in Egypt and also outlined a new economic framework for the country that would complement the existing trade and investment framework, addressing climate change and renewable energy ahead of the next climate conference in Egypt in a year, a State Department spokesman said.
Egypt’s business environment has suffered under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has expanded the role of the military and other security arms in the economy and pushed out the private sector, say leading and senior businessmen in the West. Military and government spending on construction projects has generally brought moderate growth to the economy, but government figures show that most Egyptians have actually become poorer in recent years.
The private sector in Egypt in all areas except oil contracted for the tenth consecutive month in September, according to the IHS Markit Purchasing Managers’ Index, which estimates the volume of business activity.
US administration attempts to improve ties with Egypt come just eight weeks after the State Department delayed the transfer of $ 130 million out of $ 300 million in military aid because of Egypt’s human rights record. In the US, the decision to delay some of the military aid was seen as a compromise.
The Biden administration sought to make human rights and democracy the cornerstones of its foreign policy. President Joe Biden has increasingly sharply criticized authoritarian regimes in China and Russia and plans to convene a summit of democracies later this year. During the presidential election, Biden promised to stop what he defined as “open checks on Trump’s favorite dictators.”
Sometimes this effort is complicated by the Biden administration’s efforts to work more closely with partner countries to solve regional problems, especially in the Middle East.
The summit with the samplers demonstrated how the administration has reached a point where it gives priority to security and geopolitical targets over consideration of the human rights situation in relations with Egypt, say people who have closely examined the talks.
“Unfortunately, the commitment to human rights is not for the realm of rhetoric. In their perspective, Egypt fulfills goals that they give priority over any other consideration,” said Timothy Kaldas, a fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based research institute.
Following the outbreak of a conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, Blinkan and other senior officials praised Egypt’s efforts to bring Hamas to a ceasefire.
“The Egyptians have played an important role in Gaza and continue to do so in order to mediate a kind of long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas,” said David Shankar, a retired Middle East diplomat who served under the Trump administration and is now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The role of the Egyptian government in North Africa has entered the center of the stage in recent weeks after the leaders of the military coup in Sudan asked Cairo for approval before carrying out the coup. In addition, Egypt provided weapons to a militia leader in Libya supported by the Russians, who tried to overthrow the Libyan government recognized by the international community.
On Monday, Blinken stressed what he defined as the common interests of the United States and Egypt in Libya, Iran, Sudan and Ethiopia, in addition to the climate conference scheduled for next year. Blinkan did not mention Cairo’s support for the military coup in Sudan.
The strategic dialogue between Egypt and the United States, which includes groups of senior officials from both sides who met for two days, included a discussion on human rights on Monday afternoon, State Department leader Ned Price said, adding that “our relationship with Egypt has many faces.”
On Monday, Blinken said the U.S. wants to see changes to Egypt’s pre – trial detention rules and protection of the right to a free press and freedom of expression.
Shukri pointed to the country’s human rights strategy, announced in September, and the end of the state of emergency last month, saying those two things were “irrefutable evidence of our readiness and willingness to continue carving a path towards a modern democratic state.”
Human rights organizations said the September announcement would have little effect in practice in a country that has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents and caused others to flee it. Sen. Patrick Leahy (a Vermont Democrat) and California Democratic Rep. Roe Hana tweeted Friday the case of activist Rami Shaath, who has been in administrative detention for more than two years and is accused of aiding a terrorist organization.
Egypt’s security forces have also unjustifiably concealed and killed hundreds of rivals and people suspected of belonging to militias, human rights activists say. The government denies any wrongdoing.
Sisi, who is considered a strong leader, was appointed defense minister by his predecessor, former President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood man who was elected in 2012 in the only democratic elections held in Egypt since its establishment as a state.
Sisi-led military personnel overthrew Morsi in a 2013 military coup. Sisi was elected president in 2014. In 2018, he won more than 90% of the vote in the election after the authorities imprisoned and pushed aside potential competitors. In 2019, his supporters wanted to make amendments to the constitution that would extend his tenure.
“He’s a player who’s going to be here for a long time,” Shenkar said of Sisi.
Amira El Peki in Cairo participated in the preparation of the article.