Secretary of State Kerry recently waived conditions on 1.3 billion dollars of military aid to Egypt. Despite ongoing concerns regarding Egypt’s record on human rights and democracy, Kerry’s decision overrides legislative conditions aimed at requiring political progress and upholding basic freedoms in Egypt’s democratic transition. Controversy surrounding the waiver has led some members of Congress to critique the State Department’s actions.
Secretary Kerry’s decision comes amid renewed criticism of the role of assistance in Egypt’s transition. After Israel, Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, inaugurated with the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978. According to the State Department, this assistance helps foreign militaries maintain peace and “promote regional security” in their own countries, particularly those that share U.S. national security interests.
Specifically, the U.S government justification of $1.3 billion in annual Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt is for the purpose of “halting the movement of illicit goods across Egyptian borders, increasing security in the Sinai, preventing attacks from Gaza into Israel, supporting counterterrorism operations, and securing transit through the Suez Canal.” However, that assistance is conditioned upon the certification that Egypt is “supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law” as well as honoring its peace agreement with Israel.
Former Secretary of State Clinton also waived these requirements last year to keep military aid in place, though Clinton released a statement publicizing the waiver. The timing of this year’s waiver is also drawing more attention as it coincides with renewed attention on human rights abuses in Egypt. Some of these concerns stem from the excessive use of force in repressing protests, rising numbers of defamation and blasphemy prosecutions tried in military courts, increasing media censorship, and a draconian new draft NGO law. The harsh verdicts issued in the case of 43 NGO workers in Egypt in early June was only the most egregious example of the Egyptian government’s crackdown against civil society.
The credibility of public criticism of the Egyptian government’s behavior, reflected in Kerry’s “deep concern” of the NGO verdicts, and State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell’s “deep concern” on punishment of political expression in Egypt, are undermined by Kerry’s decision to sign the waiver. Many Egyptians interpret the waiving of these conditions as prioritizing the U.S. security relationship with Egypt over support for Egypt’s democratic transition and human rights obligations, sending a conflicting message to U.S. allies.
Partnership with the Egyptian military is a strategic priority for the United States, but it must not come at the expense of support for Egypt’s transition. The conditions placed on the State Department’s military assistance to Egypt tie this assistance to the country’s democratic progress, which will ultimately foster a more stable and secure Egypt, in turn bolstering both U.S. and Egyptian national interests. The waiver was a missed opportunity for the Obama administration to articulate its dissatisfaction with transition-related progress.