Saudi Arabia has come under vicious attack by members of US Congress in recent months with calls to impose sanctions on the kingdom over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by rogue elements; a move that was blocked by the White House. Now Democrats partnered with several prominent Republican senators have set their sights on Egypt.
One of the first items on the newly Democrat-dominated House of Representatives’ to-do-list was to spearhead a vote to cut $300 million (Dh 1.1 billion) in military assistance to the most populous Arab nation fighting to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks and battling against the spread of extremist ideologies. The bill, an attempt at punishing Egypt on human rights grounds, has yet to pass the Senate.
Chief drum-beater is Senator Lindsey Graham who has been obsessed with discrediting the Egyptian government ever since he arrived in Cairo in 2013 accompanied by the late senator John McCain to arrogantly demand the release of former president Mohammad Mursi accused of a multitude of crimes. The strutting pair received an icy reception, a humiliation Graham has not forgotten.
Where is the logic in reducing military aid when hundreds of Egyptian security personnel and civilians have lost their lives fighting Daesh-affiliates in northern Sinai? The military is also heavily engaged in protecting the country’s long porous border with Libya from terrorist infiltrators and gun-runners. Security services work to root out terrorist sleeper cells and monitor remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood plotting to damage the state.
The sum is a drop in the ocean but it sends the message that US lawmakers either have no understanding of the challenges faced by one of America’s closest allies in the Mena region or harbour a nefarious geopolitical agenda aimed at forcing Egypt under Washington’s boot.
Evidently they are ignorant of the fact that aid to Cairo is not a charitable donation but rather it is mandated within the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. It is not a tool used to bludgeon a sovereign country and partner and certainly not one on the path of recovery from back-to-back revolutions that shook its very foundations.
The double standards are astounding. Nato member Turkey whose prisons are bursting at the seams with journalists and activists is left off the hook because it hosts a US airbase. Same story with the Philippines where a part of the country remains under martial law and extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers are encouraged; is the silence in Congress due to a bilateral defence pact signed last April that allows for new US military facilities to be constructed? The biggest sick joke is the $38 billion US reward to Israel that indiscriminately shoots Gaza residents, imprisons Palestinian children and demolishes homes.
I woke on Sunday morning to learn that an Egyptian police officer was killed while trying to defuse a bomb inside a bag left on a roof close to a church in a Cairo suburb just days before Coptic Christians celebrate Christmas; three others suffered injuries. This was one of a series of attacks on Christian places of worship in recent decades. In 2013, the Brotherhood ransacked and set fire to as many as 42 churches. Today, all cathedrals and churches are under heavy security.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi was the first Egyptian leader to attend a Christmas mass at a Coptic Cathedral and on Sunday he attended the opening of the largest cathedral in the Middle East constructed in the New Administrative Capital which he commissioned. Last month, permission was granted for the construction of 168 new churches and monasteries.
The president consistently calls upon people to follow Islam’s message of tolerance and acceptance of the other without discrimination based on religion or race. He rightly prioritises the human rights of his country’s 100 million citizens to walk the streets peacefully and to benefit from economic growth over the ‘rights’ of terrorists and agitators bent on anarchy.
Those lawmakers, those people in glass houses with their faux concern for human rights thousands of miles away would do well to focus closer to home where schoolchildren fear mass shootings, unarmed African Americans risk being shot by trigger happy police and weeping infants are torn from their parents arms at the US border with Mexico.
Egypt is forging ahead at a rapid pace in terms of GDP, infrastructure and security but those advances would be nullified were there windows opened permitting the contagion of violent protests of the type holding the French president hostage. America should quit using aid as a weapon. Better still, Egypt should consider refusing such string-laden assistance.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.