Democracy In Egypt Not Actually That Important To U.S., Analysts Say


CAIRO — After months of icy relations between the United States and Egypt, the Obama administration announced on Tuesday that it’s resuming partial military aid to the country and will deliver 10 Apache helicopters. Analysts warn the move indicates that the U.S. is ignoring the urgent need for democracy in Egypt, which has generated international uproar over the past year for its violent and repressive security crackdown.

“The decision to send the Apaches without any clear reciprocation from Cairo on human rights is yet another signal to the Egyptian government that it can wear down U.S. pressure on democracy issues if it persists long enough,” said Amy Hawthorne, a Middle East expert at the Atlantic Council who previously worked at the State Department coordinating support for the Arab Spring.

“As President Obama explained in his U.N. General Assembly speech last September, the United States considers its ‘core’ interests in the region as connected to U.S. security interests,” she said. “And it views democracy and human rights as separate, secondary concerns.”

The United States suspended the delivery of Apache helicopters last July and later halted much of its $1.3 billion annual aid package after the Egyptian military overthrew the country’s first freely elected president, initiated deadly crackdowns on all opposition and began jailing both Egyptian and foreign journalists.

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that the U.S. would be resuming part of its aid because Egypt has upheld the Camp David Accords, its 35-year-old peace treaty with Israel, and is therefore eligible for military and counterterrorism assistance. The decision coincides with the first trip to Washington by high-level Egyptian officials since Morsi’s ouster.

“This is one element of the president’s broader efforts to work with partners across the region to build their capacity to counter terrorist threats, and is the United States’ national security interest,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby told the Associated Press.

Israel had slammed the U.S. cut in military aid to Egypt in October, saying that lax security in the restive Sinai Peninsula could lead to more attacks against the country. In the wake of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster, hardline Islamist groups based in Sinai have launched almost daily attacks on security personnel in Egypt and have fired several rockets into southern Israel.

“The United States is attempting to halt a drift in relations,” said Zack Gold, a D.C.-based analyst on security cooperation between the U.S. and the Sinai. “The release of Apaches and the visit to Washington of Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy are representative that relations are on track. However, this is all being done without a broader discussion — internally or bilaterally — about the future of the U.S.-Egyptian strategic relationship.”

While Gold stressed that the the U.S. is waiting to release all of its aid pending democratic progress in Egypt, he doesn’t expect it will make much of a difference.

“Unfortunately, as seen from the priorities the president laid out last fall at the United Nations, the Obama administration has already decided that Middle East democracy is not a priority,” he said.

According to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, Kerry said he can’t “certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition,” but urged Egypt to uphold its promise to create a democracy with “free, fair, and transparent elections.” Critics of the government have said they fear that next month’s presidential elections will resemble Egypt’s constitutional referendum in January, when those advocating for a “no” vote against the government were rounded up and arrested.

ْْْْHawthorne warned that the U.S. is taking a short-sighted view by focusing on security concerns in Egypt and overlooking human rights violations.

“The U.S. administration does not believe that progress on human rights and democracy is required to protect its security interests in the region,” she said. “In the short term, this may be correct in a narrow sense, but in the longer term, failure to develop inclusive, just governance systems could destabilize the region significantly and create an even more difficult environment for the United States.”

CORRECTION: This article initially overstated the value of the annual U.S. military assistance package to Egypt, which is $1.3 billion.