The Biden administration and leftist congressional allies have perpetuated a tired charade of prioritizing human rights over other security-focused considerations with regard to relations with several key partners, including Egypt. One of the loudest Democratic voices in opposition to continued security assistance for Egypt is Sen. Christopher MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyDemocrats ready to put a wrap on dragged-out talks Democrats look for plan B on filibuster The Memo: Cuts to big bill vex Democrats MORE (Conn.), who questions a number of established partnerships supporting U.S. objectives across the Middle East.
In the past weeks, much has been revealed by our appalling abandonment of U.S. citizens and allies in Afghanistan. If promoting human rights was a primary consideration, the Biden administration would not support the Taliban — a designated terrorist organization under the United Nations and U.S. Treasury Department — which, this past week, blamed the U.S. for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
With this new reality, it is worth circling back to the administration’s dangerous approach to the U.S.-Egypt relationship, where some hard questions must be asked of Democrats advocating a halt to critical security assistance.
Egypt faces multiple security challenges and requires urgent assistance in order to continue providing leadership on regional security matters. The nation and its president, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, are critical bulwarks against the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical islamist groups. It is clear that if security assistance is not provided by the United States, Egypt will seek it elsewhere, likely with Russia or other strategic rivals.
The House passed a 2022 foreign aid bill that proposes withholding $150 million from Egypt — a larger amount than in previous years — and that does not include the standard national security waiver for a portion of that withheld assistance. Due to long-standing fiscal problems, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cairo is financially strapped and now risks losing U.S. financial assistance, which constitutes a big chunk of its annual military budget. Meanwhile, as its budget is expected to remain in a deficit through 2025, pressure is building in Egypt for more austerity measures. With citizens under 30 representing more than half the total population, the trajectory is unsustainable.
Our interests are harmed without Egypt as a key partner. Egypt has fought a Sinai insurgency, which at times, has spilled over into other parts of the country. The ISIS affiliate in Egypt has claimed responsibility for most attacks and the country has been under a state of emergency since April 2018, when two ISIS-claimed suicide bombings at churches in Alexandria and Tanta killed at least 45 people.
Next to the Sinai Peninsula, Sisi helped to broker peace — at least for now — in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. Although Egypt has historically played an important role in Israeli-Palestinian relations, many were caught off-guard by this development. It is a fragile peace, but this Egyptian-negotiated ceasefire highlights the critical regional leadership Cairo can and should provide.
Egypt faces a strategic challenge on its western border from the multi-year civil war in Libya and significant related security threats. Cairo is concerned that Turkish-sponsored Syrian mercenaries, combined with Erdogan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, could create an Islamic-oriented government in Tripoli. While a ceasefire was signed in 2020, Libya remains volatile and insecure.
Building on U.S. strategic security relations with Egypt, Central Command is currently engaged in a massive regional military exercise called Bright Star. In its statement on the exercise, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo states that the U.S.-Egypt security partnership plays "a leading role in regional security and efforts to combat the spread of extremism." To illustrate the size and scope of this exercise, other countries participating include: the United Kingdom, France, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, Kuwait, the UAE, Tunisia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania as well as Cyprus, Italy, Spain, Greece and Pakistan. This exercise is in addition to the counterterrorism training that took place earlier in the year.
Cairo’s security is also challenged from the south, as the Nile River flows through Sudan and into Ethiopia. Egypt depends on the Nile River to meet 95 percent of its water needs. Ethiopia, which also relies on the Nile for water, built and filled the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam despite objections from both Egypt and Sudan. Both countries say that once filled, this dam will increase water instability; a particularly serious problem for Egypt as its major cities are growing exponentially. Searching for sustainable solutions to this emerging water crisis, Egypt has requested assistance from U.N. and African Union friends and allies to reach a rapprochement with Ethiopia and hopefully avoid a military confrontation.
Egypt is facing massive security challenges — both internally and externally. The United States needs Egypt to continue as a key regional leader in maintaining peace and stability, which are both in our long-term interest. Congressional Democrats must abandon their anti-Egypt rhetoric and focus on providing necessary security assistance in order to ensure U.S. national security interests are aggressively protected.
Cairo has taken a leadership role in addressing a number of important regional security challenges and should be encouraged and supported, not punished.
Simone Ledeen is a visiting fellow at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia School of Law's National Security Institute. She previously served as deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy. Twitter: @SimoneLedeen