Biden just tore up his 'human rights first' policy in Egypt
The Biden administration's decision to withhold $130 million of military aid to Egypt is an insult to the many Egyptians who took seriously Joe Biden's now tangibly false electioneering rhetoric to "get tough" on the totalitarian regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Firstly, there's the sheer absurdity of the scale. The $130 million is a paltry fraction of the $300 million in military aid the US has pledged to Egypt in this fiscal year. And that $300 million is itself part of a larger package amounting to over $1.3 billion in military aid to the regime.
This aid is part of a much broader coordination between the US and Egyptian armed forces that sees Egyptian officers - including Sisi himself many years ago - receive top military education in the US, as well as the sharing of intelligence and technology.
$130 million is a small price to pay for US cooperation and, to be crystal clear about the true meaning of this act from Biden, collaboration with the Egyptian regime's vast human rights violations. Typical of Biden's sketchy "human rights first" foreign policy, this move is the US doing something without really doing anything, but it's also something worse than that – it's a coded means for the US-Egyptian special relationship to continue despite human rights violations.
"This move is the US doing something without really doing anything"
To put it starkly: if the Sisi regime doesn't live up to the US's specific conditions relating only to the persecution of civil society organisations, the US will still provide, in just this fiscal year, $170 million to a regime that by its very nature seeks to crush human rights and liberties by the most brutal and cruel means. In total, the Egyptian regime, will in the calendar year receive $1.1 billion from the Biden administration, regardless of the constant state terror it uses against all forms of dissent.
This is assuming that Sisi and Biden don't come to some entirely superficial agreement that sees the aid reinstated without anything changing - the fact it includes the release of 16 individuals, out of a total of 60,000 political prisoners, belies the superficiality of the conditions and the potential for Sisi to circumvent them.
That is precisely what happened the last time Biden held office, this time as Barack Obama's vice president, when, facing some internal pressure following the Sisi regime's murder of over 1,000 protestors in one day in August 2013, it withheld a portion of the military aid.
The US will withhold $130 million worth of aid to Egypt until human rights conditions are met.https://t.co/H3oSJwbYei— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) September 14, 2021
Within the year, citing "security" and "counterterrorism", the military aid had been restored and the Obama administration was congratulating Sisi on his 2014 rigged electoral victory, which necessarily involved crushing the entire democratic opposition.
Biden was part of an administration that refused to officially, or even unofficially, recognise the anti-democratic military coup that brought Sisi to power as a coup. Any such recognition by the US government would contravene a law that restricts military aid to foreign governments that come to power by military coups.
But this move is Bidenism at its worst, following in the same ideological spirit of the US abandoning Afghans to the Taliban and presenting this as establishing "peace" - this move by Biden that re-normalises US support for the Sisi regime will be spun by his administration, and its many apologists, as his fulfilment of an ethical, human rights-driven foreign policy.
Which brings us to the human cost of this decision.
Just last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a disturbing report confirming that Egyptian security forces had been operating as death squads, carrying out the extrajudicial murder of dissidents under the guise of what the Egyptian Armed Forces report as "shootouts" with terrorist groups.
This pattern has played out an untold number of times across Egypt – HRW identified 755 cases, but the true number, given most won't warrant reporting and can't be covered domestically due to Egypt's vicious anti-journalism laws, is thought to be much larger.
"This move is Bidenism at its worst, following in the same ideological spirit of the US abandoning Afghans to the Taliban"
Appealing to and under the guise of the "War on Terror" narrative, the Sisi regime has been murdering dissidents and then framing them as "terrorists" killed in elaborate shootouts with security forces posthumously. It's more than just an irony that counterterrorism is often cited by foreign policy realists to justify US support for the Egyptian regime – many of these people are murdered with US weaponry given Egypt's primary domestic security force is the Central Security Forces, which is a paramilitary organisation that, unlike the national police, receives direct US funding.
This is just one more brutal addition to the plethora of horrors that the Sisi regime carries out daily. The Biden administration knows all of this; it funds much of it. But instead of attempting to use its unique position as Egypt's military patron to put real pressure on Sisi and take a moral stand against it, it has via this deal obfuscated the quantity and ideological quality of human rights abuses in Sisi's totalitarian state.
Far from aiding the cause of human rights in Egypt or anywhere else, Biden has given the Sisi regime a veritable green light to continue or even escalate its mass violence, with US consent, technology and diplomatic support.
Once again, thanks to so-called liberal democrats, tyranny prospers.
Sam Hamad is a writer and History PhD candidate at the University of Glasgow focusing on totalitarian ideologies.
Join the conversation @The_NewArab.
Have questions or comments? Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.