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US announces $2.5B arms deal on anniversary of Egypt's Arab Spring

On a day in which many are reflecting on their failed democratic revolution, Biden gives the authoritarian now in power more weapons.

Analysis | Middle East

Yesterday marked the anniversary of Egypt’s democratic revolution in 2011, when Egyptians took to the streets in demonstrations, marches, and other acts of resistance to the tyrannical rule of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. 

The U.S. government, inexplicably, saw fit to honor the occasion by announcing, not one, but two, massive arms sales to the Egyptian military, worth more than $2.5 billion. 

This is not time to be providing more U.S. military equipment to Egypt’s current authoritarian leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whose regime has engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and a host of other human rights abuses, according to the State Department. As Rep. Tom Malinowksi (D-NJ) has noted, "In exchange for the favors that Egypt gets from the White House, they don’t actually do anything for us. This is not a situation where we are trading off human rights for something that advances the U.S. national interest. Egypt...contributes nothing to the goals of peace and security.”

As Seth Binder, an arms sales expert and Advocacy Director at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) first noted on Twitter, this arms sale announcement also happened the same day Congress called on the Biden administration to withhold around $130 million in military aid to Egypt because, as Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) explained, in Egypt, “the human rights situation more broadly has only deteriorated over the last few months.”

Despite this plea from Congress, just hours later the Biden administration announced arms sales to Egypt worth nearly twenty times the amount of military aid Murphy and others suggested be withheld from Egypt. This led to a rather testy press conference at the State Department yesterday when a reporter asked “what is the point of withholding $130 million in foreign military financing when you’re just going to turn around and sell them $2.5 billion in weapons?” 

The State Department spokesperson did not directly respond to this question, perhaps because the real answer is that announcing these arms sales just hours after the U.S. Congress flags serious human rights concerns with the Egyptian government, on a day when Egyptians are celebrating the anniversary of a revolution that sought to oust a corrupt and oppressive government, sends a clear message: the U.S. is choosing militarization over sound foreign policy.

But, this is nothing new–this is U.S. foreign policy when it comes to Egypt. The Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy has noted it’s, “business as usual,” for the U.S. to provide arms to Egypt despite myriad concerns with its authoritarian and destabilizing leaders. Willliam Hartung and Seth Binder have also noted, in a report that tracked more than $41 billion in arms sales to Egypt since 1987, that the return on investment to the U.S. has been nominal, at best, as evidence by the Sisi regime which is widely considered to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. 

Authorizing additional arms sales to Egypt is worse than throwing good money after bad; it’s throwing bad money after bad. If it’s the definition of insanity to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results, it’s the definition of U.S. foreign policy insanity to keep arming authoritarian regimes that have proven, over-and-over, they will not change. Continued failures to learn this lesson in Egypt–and throughout the world, for that matter–will continue to undermine U.S. foreign policy.

Cairo, Egypt, 2011, Young Egyptian girl chanting slogans at an anti-government protest in Tahrir quare, Cairo Egypt (Shutterstock/John Wreford)
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