The United States Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Egypt on Saturday under the blue moon for a “strategic dialogue” with Egypt’s foreign minister about the longstanding bilateral relationship.
Reports of the visit were met with praise in both countries. The US State Department live-tweeted pictures of Kerry and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry smiling together, and the Egyptian Embassy released a “fact sheet” on the historical and “dynamic” partnership between the two nations.
The conversation seemed to be largely focussed on counterterrorism, with Kerry reiterating the United States’ support for “all institutions” engaged in the fight.
“It is because of our commitment to Egypt’s security and our common fight against violent extremism and terrorists… that we have, over the last year, provided F-16s, Apache helicopters, Fast Missile Craft, armored vehicles and other weapons systems.”
The latest shipment of American F-16s arrived on Thursday and Friday last week, with the jets flying over the pyramids on Friday to commemorate the deal.
According to the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), a Swiss-based international organization, which works to improve the security apparatuses of states, “The strategic interests driving US assistance to Egypt include preserving the balance of power between Israel and Egypt, supporting counterterrorism exercises and activities… shipping and overflight privileges.”
The overflight privileges became more important to the US amid the 2001 Iraq War. In exchange for military aid, Egypt gave the US expedited access to the Suez Canal and free use of Egyptian flight space, essentially creating a secure corridor for US security forces between Egypt and other countries in the region.
The US currently provides Egypt with aid through a “cash flow financing” system that allows the country to make purchases before paying for them, based on the tacit agreement that the military aid package between Egypt and the US will continue as is. This system is due to change in 2018, with the aid package to Egypt shifting significantly. The “cash flow” agreement will end and aid to Egypt will be channelled into four sectors: counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security.
US regulations for the 2015 Fiscal Year stipulate that aid to Egypt should depend on several conditions, including that Egypt has “free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections” and “is implementing reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.” Egypt hasn’t had a parliament since 2012 and parliamentary elections have been continually delayed.
The US put its aid to Egypt on hold in October 2013, following President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster, under regulations prohibiting the US from sending aid to unelected governments.
The aid was resumed under a 2015 stipulation, allowing the US to waive the above conditions if in the interests of US national security.
“The American people are committed to the security and to the economic well-being of the Egyptian people, guided by the vibrancy of your own civil society, your politics, your free and fair democratic process” Kerry remarked on Saturday.
DCAF’s report highlighted the lack of criticism from the US regarding human rights abuses: “The US has been reluctant to use its close relationship with Egypt as leverage to support political reform and human rights.” Additionally, the LEAHY law in the US prohibits the supply of defense goods and services “to any unit of security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
Kerry concluded in his speech, “The friendship between our countries is not based on some kind of perfect agreement. It’s based on an intense awareness of our shared interests in areas such as regional stability and counterterrorism.”