Friday,17 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)
Friday,17 August, 2018
Issue 1290, (7 - 13 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Relations back on track?

US-Egyptian relations have received a series of diplomatic boosts over recent days, writes Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

This week’s visit by a high-level US delegation to Cairo together with last week’s visit by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Washington were further steps taken by the two states to boost bilateral relations, according to Sayed Amin Shalaby, executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.

“The delegations emphasised that US strategic relations with Egypt are the buttress of stability in the Middle East and that Egypt is an important partner to the US in the region,” Shalaby said.

An Egyptian diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said the US would not be able to play the role it wants to play in the Middle East without sound relations with Egypt. “This relationship is even more important now, given the recent developments in Syria, Libya and Yemen, as well as the growth and spread of terrorism,” he added.

On Sunday, a US Congressional delegation headed by Senator Lindsey Graham visited Egypt and met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

During the meeting, Al-Sisi said that Egypt was committed to good strategic relations between Cairo and Washington and was willing to boost them on the basis of mutual respect and joint interests.

He pointed to the difficult situation in the region and the challenges facing both countries, especially that of terrorism.

Although Graham was one of the US senators who opposed the July 2013 ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi, he sounded supportive of Al-Sisi during the visit, describing him as “a military man who understands terrorism” and “someone I can work with.”

Shoukri and US ambassador to Egypt Stephen Beecroft attended Graham’s meeting with Al-Sisi.   

Human rights in Egypt has been one of the main issues that have caused differences between the two countries and prompted recent criticisms from Washington.

US Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement last month criticising the human rights situation in Egypt and what he said was a wave of prosecutions against NGO workers in the country.

However, Graham seemed to want to encourage Egypt to improve its record on human rights and boost freedom of expression rather than to criticise the country.

“Our hope is that the Egyptian government can prove to the international community that they are sincerely responding to legitimate concerns, while at the same time trying to maintain security,” he said.

However, the diplomat said the human rights situation in Egypt could remain an obstacle to US-Egyptian relations.

“Recent developments in the Giulio Regeni case and other issues like enforced disappearances, unjustified detentions, and torture in prisons will present an impediment to bilateral relations,” he added.

US aid to Egypt was one of the issues discussed during Graham’s meeting with Al-Sisi, who said that Egypt appreciated the aid the US gives to Cairo which had helped to achieve the interests of both states.

Graham said he wanted the US to increase its military aid to Egypt and to the government of president Al-Sisi, which was committed to fighting terrorism by militants affiliated to the Islamic State (IS) group.

Graham, a Republican, assured Al-Sisi that if Republican Party contender Donald Trump won the presidential elections in the US, the Egyptian people would have nothing to worry about because “Congress is always around, no matter who the president is.”

Trump has made controversial statements regarded as belligerent towards Arabs and Muslims, such as suggesting a complete ban on Muslim immigration to the US.

Graham was in Egypt as part of a Republican Congressional delegation touring the Middle East. A few days before the delegation’s visit to Cairo, Shoukri visited Washington and met with his counterpart Kerry.

Their meeting focused on boosting bilateral relations in addition to discussing the situation in Syria, Libya and Yemen and ways to coordinate efforts in dealing with these issues, a statement issued by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry stated.

Shoukri also met Kerry’s top advisor for economic affairs, David Thorne. The officials discussed economic and trade relations and ways to enhance them. “The meeting reflected a US will to help Egypt in facing various economic challenges,” said Ahmed Abu Zeid, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

He added that Thorne had emphasised that it was in US interests to support Egypt in facing such challenges.

Shoukri reviewed with Thorne present promising investment opportunities, among them investment in the Suez Canal and other infrastructure projects.

In the framework of Egypt’s desire to open channels of communication with the upcoming US administration, Shoukri met with Wendy Sherman, the top advisor to Democratic Party primary presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

That was Shoukri’s second visit to the US this year. His first was in February, when he met Kerry, national security advisor Susan Rice, as well as Congress members and the heads of intelligence and military service committees.

The recent visits acquire more importance because they came after a series of visits by leading US officials, according to Shalaby.

 “The latest visit was last month’s two-day stopover in Cairo by CIA director John Brennan. These exchange visits illustrate the importance Washington places on its relationship with Egypt,” he said.

Egypt’s relations with the US became tense following the ouster of Morsi in July 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

In October 2013, the US announced the suspension of its annual military aid to Egypt. The aid was resumed in March 2014 despite the Obama administration’s continued criticisms of Egypt’s human rights record.

The US currently provides $1.3 billion annually to support Egypt’s security and military efforts to confront terrorism.

In July 2015, the US handed Egypt eight advanced fighter jets and five tank turrets to be used for American-Egyptian tank production in a plant in Egypt.

In August, the two countries took another step towards patching up their relations when they launched their first strategic dialogue since 2009 on a wide range of topics, including human rights and Cairo’s battle against terrorists in Sinai.

During the earlier standoff between Washington and Cairo, Egypt worked to diversify its military and political options after it opened military and political channels with Russia, France, China and other states.

Shalaby concluded that there was a difference between pre-Revolution and post Revolution Egypt.

“Egypt is restoring its relations with the US after it enlarged its relations with other powers like China and Japan. In the past, Egypt was dependant on the US. Now it has other alternatives,” he said.

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