Middle East

Why US-Egyptian ties are warming

John Kerry Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Kerry spoke of political inclusiveness during his trip to Cairo but analysts say little has changed

Are US-Egyptian ties finally warming, after two years in which a chill appeared to have descended?

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo recently to resume the strategic dialogue with Egypt for the first time since 2009.

Shortly beforehand, Washington delivered eight F-16 fighter jets to Egypt, with more to follow in the coming months.

They are part of the US's annual military aid to its important Middle East ally.

A large part of this $1.3bn (£834m) package was suspended after the Egyptian army ousted Islamist former President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.

'Due share'

But things took a different turn last March when the Obama administration decided to lift the arms ban.

"This batch of air fighters should have been delivered last year. It is long overdue," said Mohamed Rashad, a retired Egyptian army officer and military analyst.

"The US military assistance is part of the Camp David agreement that Egypt signed with Israel in 1979. As long as the Egyptian government is committed to this agreement, it should receive its due share."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Sisi's government has taken a strong line against Brotherhood supporters

Some interpreted the suspension of arms sales as pressure on the Egyptian authorities to improve their human rights record and engage the now banned Muslim Brotherhood group in the political arena.

But over the past two years little has changed in these areas.

Since Mr Morsi's ousting, the authorities have cracked down heavily on his supporters, as well as on secular political activists.

Thousands have been put behind bars and hundreds have been sentenced to death.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist group by the Egyptian judiciary.


US-Egyptian relations

1955 - Gamal Abdel Nasser, then prime minister, reorients Egypt away from West towards neutrality, buys arms from Communist Czechoslovakia to re-equip army after Western powers refuse to do so on terms acceptable to Egypt.

1956 July - President Nasser nationalises Suez Canal to fund Aswan High Dam, after Britain and US withdraw financing.

1956 October-November - Invasion of Egypt by Britain, France and Israel over nationalisation of Suez Canal fails through US opposition, enhancing President Nasser's standing.

1972 - President Sadat expels Soviet advisers and reorients Egypt towards West, while launching an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to open the economy to market forces and foreign investment.

1977 October - President Sadat visits Israel, beginning process that leads to 1979 peace treaty, return of occupied Sinai Peninsula, and Egypt's suspension from Arab League until 1989. Egypt becomes major beneficiary of US financial aid.

1991 - Egypt joins allied coalition to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait, benefiting from multilateral loans and debt relief in return, and allowing government to launch another attempt at liberalising economy.

2011 - As protests against President Mubarak mount, US appears torn between supporting its long-time ally and backing demands of protesters for democratic change.

2013 October - US suspends large part of $1.3bn in aid months after army overthrows President Morsi.


Strife

Mr Kerry has highlighted the importance of "building trust between the authorities and the public, and enabling those who are critical of official policies to find a means of voicing their dissent peacefully, through participation in a political process".

But critics say Washington has not been serious enough in enforcing the human rights agenda in Egypt.

Egyptian military expert Safwat Al Zayyat says: "The United States has been hesitant in promoting its own values in the Middle East. This is why it might not be as influential as before in the region."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Some Egyptian activists have staged protests about US policy in the region

While internal strife is tearing apart many countries in the region, the Egyptian regime remains intact, if divisive.

Some analysts say the US is prioritising security and stability, without taking democracy and human rights totally off the table.

Important facilitator

It has lifted many restrictions on Egypt, although "no real progress has been made when it comes to democratic rule in the country," says Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Nathan Brown, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, told me that resuming aid is not a reward to Egypt for any specific policies, but rather an encouragement to respond on issues touching on human rights and democracy.

Although Egypt might not be as central to the US perspective on the Arab world as it was three or four decades ago, it is still an important facilitator of US operations in the region.

Strained ties would only complicate US policy. For the time being, lingering differences can be managed through dialogue.

Related Topics

More on this story