Imperial Hypocrite: The Inside Story of How the U.S. Gave Its Blessing to Egypt's Brutal Coup Regime
Secretary of State John Kerry and General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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On a sunny August day last year, President Barack Obama took a break from vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard to deliver a rebuke to the Egyptian military. The armed forces had deposed the country’s first elected president, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, in a coup in July 2013. The dark clouds that had been gathering in the weeks since the coup in the Arab world’s most populous country got darker on Aug. 14, 2013, when the Egyptian military ordered the clearing of a Muslim Brotherhood protest camp in Cairo and slaughtered hundreds of largely unarmed people.
Obama, whose administration had expressed concern but took little action to stop the violence and refused to call it a coup, was forced by the crackdown to speak out. “The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces. We deplore violence against civilians,” the president said the day after the military cleared out the sit-in at Rabaa square in Cairo.
But his rhetoric hardly matched up to the action he took: canceling a joint military exercise, a symbolic move at best, considering the $1.3 billion in military aid the U.S. gives Egypt every year as a condition of keeping the peace with Israel and acting as an outpost for U.S. power in the Middle East.
It was a sign the U.S. would look the other way at a military coup crushing any vestige of democracy in the country, in effect giving American blessing to a government that rose to power by force. And as Egypt continued to grow more and more repressive, that's exactly what happened: the U.S. legitimized the coup by applauding Egypt's "roadmap" and passing legislation that would restore all aid. (The U.S. has refused to label the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Mohamed Morsi as a coup, since doing so would trigger automatic aid cut-offs to Egypt.)
Obama's criticism had no impact. It became apparent that the Egyptian military, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was making no moves toward democracy and was instead consolidating a military dictatorship almost three years after the Egyptian people overthrew dictator Hosni Mubarak. On October 9, the U.S. announced it was suspending the delivery of Apache helicopters and F-16 helicopters and cutting off $260 million in cash. It was yet another purely symbolic move, and the administration made clear it was temporary. As Al Jazeera revealed, “nearly 2,000 tons of critical U.S. military equipment continued to flow to Egyptian ports” after the July 3 coup overthrowing Mohamed Morsi.
The symbolism of those moves became crystal-clear in the months ahead. In early November, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Egypt and said that the country, still in the midst of a crackdown on dissent, was “on the path to democracy.” Kerry added that “the roadmap is being carried out to the best of our perception”—a reference to a referendum on a new Constitution and new elections—and that the move to suspend some military aid “is not a punishment.”
Then came January 2014. As part of a trillion-dollar spending bill passed by the Senate and House, the military aid and economic assistance to Egypt, totaling $1.5 billion, was fully restored. (The vast majority in aid—$1.3 billion—is military.)
The U.S. has plenty of reasons why it wants to keep funding the Egyptian regime. The military aid acts as a subsidy to American arms contractors, since the $1.3 billion is required to be spent on equipment made in the U.S. It guarantees continued access to the Suez Canal, a key geographic area crucial to the flow of oil. And it helps lock down Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, allowing the Jewish state to focus on other threats while continuing its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In recent years, Egypt and Israel have worked toward the same goal: weakening the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.