United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on the release of $US 1.2 billion in foreign military financing to Egypt as reported by Associated Press.
A statement by US State Department announced that Pompeo authorized the release by signing the necessary national security waivers allowing the money to be spent. The US Congress now has 15 days to provide its comments on Pompeo’s authorization before steps will be taken to send the money to Egypt.
Pompeo’s authorization, the announcement for which was delayed by three weeks for undisclosed reasons, comes months after the US announced it would be releasing $US 195 million in the military had that had been frozen in 2017 by the US State Department over human rights concerns.
The $US 1.2 billion which Pompeo authorized the release of includes that $US 195 million. However, in its announcement of the authorization, the State Department said that the US still had “serious concerns about the human rights situation in Egypt”.
“At the same time, strengthened security cooperation with Egypt is important to U.S. national security,” stated the State Department according to the Associated Press.
“Secretary Pompeo determined that continuing with the obligation and expenditure of these FMF funds is important to strengthening our security cooperation with Egypt.”
Moreover, two days ago, the Egyptian army announced joint military training exercises with the United States, to combat terrorism and reducing the threat of improvised explosive devices (IED), two days before the launch of “Operation Bright Star.”
A military spokesman, Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, stated that “training was conducted to exchange expertise in counter-terrorism between elements of the American Special Forces (SOFD-A) and Egyptian Thunderbolt Forces in order to consolidate operational concepts, training on the joint teamwork and rehabilitate the forces to implement future planned stages.”
He explained that the training “included many theoretical and practical lectures in the field of counterterrorism, methods of handling IED, training in air and sea freight and combat diving, in addition to medical insurance, the use of nonstandard live ammunition from various weapons as well as training to infiltrate a terrorist outpost.”
The training comes two days before the launch of “Operation Bright Star 2018” between the two countries, in a military base in northwest Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, in the north of the country. The military operation will take place between eight and 20 September.
The Trump administration is justifying the release of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional military aid to Egypt, citing the country’s progress over the last year in counterterrorism efforts and some improvements in its human rights record.
Egypt has come under increasing scrutiny in recent months by rights groups, who allege Egyptian authorities are targeting political dissidents under the guise of security.
“The Egyptian regime used its fight on terrorism to crack down on peaceful opposition and to shut down the public sphere completely,” said Amr Magdi, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
And in recent years, authorities in Egypt have arrested dozens of members of both domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations.
In 2013, Egypt’s crackdown on nongovernmental organizations in the country, including several American NGO workers, prompted the Obama administration to withhold military aid to the country.
That year, a Cairo court convicted 43 NGO workers, including several Americans, over allegations of receiving foreign funding and sowing internal unrest in the country.
Nancy Okail, who is currently the executive director of the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, was one of those indicted.
“Most of the leadership of civil society organizations that we know of and are most established are either being prosecuted, or they are banned from traveling and having their assets frozen,” Okail said.
“I was charged with operating an office without a license and for receiving funding from foreign government,” Okail said. She added that at the time she was finishing her paperwork to become the Egypt country director of Freedom House, a U.S.-based nongovernment organization working for democracy around the world.
A former US official said this month that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has been aggressively pushing for normalization of relations between Egypt and the US.
“Mattis was one of the major proponents for lifting the hold on assistance [of $US 195 million] and was fairly aggressive on getting Pompeo to lift the hold,” said the former US official, adding that Pompeo does not seem to prioritize building a relationship with Egypt.
US President Donald Trump, however, has been vocal in his support of Egypt. Trump and Sisi are in regular contact, particularly over matters in the Middle East, with the latter being the first to congratulate Trump on his Presidency victory in 2016.
US military aid to Egypt stems from the Camp David Accords, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt signed in 1978.