Washington threatening to potentially impose sanctions against Egypt at the end of 2019 if Cairo went ahead with its purchase of military aircraft from Russia became “a new source of friction” for the USA “with a country whose leader” had been previously lauded by the US President.
And just a few days ago, Donald Trump showed the world that the United States was prepared to restart its bilateral cooperation with Egypt, including the collaboration in the defense technology sector.
On 7 May 2020, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) sent a notification to US Congress about a proposed Foreign Military Sale to Cairo of a refurbishment package for 43 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters that belong to the Egyptian Armed Forces. The U.S. State Department approved the potential sale. The combined price tag of the refurbishment package is $2.3 billion, and the funding will come from foreign military financing that Egypt receives from the United States.
This sizable contract and Washington’s demonstrated willingness in recent years to facilitate and deepen cooperation with Egypt not only in the political but also in the defense technology sector all beg the question “Why are such steps being taken?”.
Even during his previous presidential campaign, Donald Trump criticized Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East. And during his very first days in the Oval office, he began to actively adjust the nature of USA’s future relations with a number of nations in this region. The US President reversed many of the foreign policy directions pursued by the previous administration, particularly the North African one, and began to actively search for additional places in the region where Washington could establish its positions.
It turned out that the US relationship with Egypt and its President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who rules the country with an iron fist according to Donald Trump, really needed a “reset”. Earlier, Washington had a fairly cool relationship with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi because he had become President in 2013 after a military coup, which resulted in the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government (headed by Mohamed Morsi) from power. And the previous leadership was in fact supported by President Barack Obama. Hence, at the time, “liberal circles” in the United States began accusing Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of systemic violations of human rights; froze aid to Egypt amounting to many billions of dollars; weakened diplomatic ties with Cairo, and limited the extent of bilateral cooperation in the defense technology sector between the two countries.
However, from the very beginning, Donald Trump, who has been leading the nation along with his tightly-knit group of “generals”, showed his indifference to the previous discussions by liberals about human rights and democracy in nations important for Washington. American interests are of the utmost importance to him. And it is well known that these interests are in many ways in line with those of US military industrial circles, where the Egyptian President, who has a military background, is viewed fairly positively. As a result, having openly expressed his admiration for Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and for the fantastic job he had done in a very difficult situation, Donald Trump reset the relationship between the United States and Egypt, and essentially erased all traces of anything Barack Obama had accomplished during his term.
The official visit Abdel Fattah el-Sisi paid to the United States in April 2019 was in fact quite telling. During the trip, the key message was that Washington expected the Egyptian leader’s full support for US policies in conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Israel and Palestine and for its other actions in the region.
It seems apt to remind our readers that in the second half of the 20th century, the US government extensively focused on its cooperation with Israel by providing funding (concessions and loans) for defense purposes, and equipment (aircraft, tanks and anti-missile defense systems) to it. Owing to this aid, Israel was not only able to win a number of armed conflicts against opponents with higher troop numbers but to also consolidate its regional position. The United States annually spent billions to provide such support. In other words, Israel was a valuable “asset” for Washington primarily because the Israel Defense Forces proved to be effective in battles against troops far exceeding them in numbers from nations in the region, such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq, where pro-Soviet leaders in power had been threatening to control the entire Middle East. If it had not been for Israel, the United States would have needed to have an entire army in the Middle East. And annually, at least a trillion US dollars would have had to be spent on it, and this sum far exceeded the funding provided to Israel. In addition, the United States would have needed to build an additional fleet in order to support operations carried out by its troops on the ground. Washington would have also had to search for cannon fodder to establish “democracy” at least in the coastal areas of the region.
At present, due to Donald Trump’s obviously failed policies towards Iraq and problems faced by the US in its confrontation against Iran and Syria, the President is forced to look for another place in the region where Washington could gain a foothold, because his idea to create an ‘Arab NATO’ did not get off the ground. The US leader hopes that Egypt would take on the role (currently played by the USA) of “monitoring” nations in the region, especially those in North Africa, such as, first and foremost, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia, and would, at the same time, aid with its policies in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. In addition, the view in Washington is that, nowadays, Egypt has one of the largest armies in the region and the United States may need cannon fodder from Egypt in the future.
Aside from the support provided to the Egyptian defense sector, Washington, via its European allies, has been helping Egypt to further strengthen its armed forces with funding and equipment. As a result, Egypt recently received its third Type-209/1400mod diesel-electric submarine from Germany, for example.
Likewise, it is important to remember that the recent efforts made by Washington to establish closer relations in the defense technology sector with Cairo are meant to have a negative effect on the rapidly developing (in recent years) political and military ties between Egypt and Russia The United States views such steps taken by Russia in North Africa and the Middle East with a great deal of envy, and does everything in its power to prevent countries in these regions from establishing closer ties with Moscow.
Vladimir Platov, Middle East expert, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.