An exclusive report by Al-Jazeera Mubasher reveals behind-the-scenes details of the visit of Mike Pence, former US Vice President, to Cairo on January 20, 2018, and the concessions that Cairo made on both domestic and regional levels in favor of the new US President at the time, Donald Trump.
Al-Jazeera Mubasher unveiled a memorandum that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry classified as “Top Secret”, with corrections made in the handwriting of Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry himself in response to the dictates of the White House, including awarding some bids to specific US companies, despite the presence of more competitive offers.
According to the report, Cairo actively sought to buy a political position, in which it incurred half a billion dollars that it spent for buying a number of railway locomotives from the American General Electric Company, but the repeated breakdowns of these locomotives put the Egyptian regime in great embarrassment.
The Egyptian judiciary was not absent from the scene of consistency with the American position, as Cairo allowed – during the same visit – the departure of 17 foreign defendants, including Americans, to Cyprus after an Egyptian judge ordered canceling the travel ban imposed on foreign suspects in the case, within the framework of what the Egyptian Foreign Ministry described as “determined efforts to settle the status of the US defendants in the foreign funding case of non-governmental organizations ”.
Al-Jazeera Mubasher obtained another document with the same “Top Secret” classification, bearing the signature of Major General Abbas Kamel – Director of Sisi’s office at the time and current director of the General Intelligence Service – which may indicate, albeit indirectly, to Sisi’s interest in settling the file of the American defendants in record time.
Cairo expedited the travel of Egyptian/American citizen Aya Hegazy, to leave the country as soon as the judicial verdict was issued, on board a private American plane and with extraordinary facilities, together with her husband that does not hold American citizenship, where Trump received her at the White House.
In harmony with the Trump administration, Egypt, representing the Arab group, withdrew the UN Security Council draft resolution condemning the Israeli settlement activities in December 2016, without paying attention to the storm of Palestinian anger and Arab disappointment, which aroused criticism from Egyptian politicians, journalists, and writers considering this behavior a mistake, for violating the Arab Quartet’s decision.
The report of Aljazeera Mubasher says that on the morning of January 20, 2018, the Egyptian capital witnessed a high-level security measures. Although this was to be considered a logical situation, as it was the seventh anniversary of the January revolution, however, there was an additional reason for the extraordinary security state evident in all streets, with official arrangements taking place at Cairo International Airport, where a US government plane had arrived, where US Vice President Mike Pence landed in Cairo with extremely critical and sensitive timing, being the most senior American official visit to Egypt since the historic visit of US President Barack Obama on June 4, 2009.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warmly welcomed the important guest and they moved to the Ittihadiya Palace, where Pence was hailed by Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, speaking in front of the cameras with welcoming talk and traditional diplomatic expressions.
Al-Jazeera Mubasher obtained official documents that reveal what was going on behind the closed doors, during a period that witnessed the height of strong personal relationship between Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and then newcomer to the White House, President Donald Trump.
The office of Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry prepared a memorandum classified as “Top Secret”, which including several points described as points proposed for talk with Pence during his visit to Cairo.
The first lines of the memorandum referred to Egyptian efforts to correct the course of bilateral relations with the United States since the victory of the Trump administration and even before he took office officially.
So, what did Cairo offer and what did the Trump administration give in return?
The official memorandum reveals huge political and economic concessions made by the Egyptian government, both domestically and regionally, as part of a package of positions, where the memorandum reviews ‘measures towards President Trump and in response to the demands of his new administration.
One of the points addressed by the memorandum, which contained corrections in the handwriting of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, says that Egypt responded to the demand of the American administration and President Trump of encouraging American companies wishing to take advantage of the economic opportunities available in Egypt, which resulted in the General Electric (GE) company’s winning of a bid to supply a number of railway locomotives worth nearly five hundred million dollars. However, the most dangerous thing that the secret memo says is that this was done despite more competitive offers from other companies.
The most competitive bids submitted by international companies were ignored in the tender offered by the Egyptian Ministry of Transport. Indeed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs added a comment in his handwriting clearly stating, “General Electric (GE) has been recommended to win the tender.
A storm of questions arises about this deal, which, at a minimum, violates the Egyptian Tenders and Auctions Law, and clearly reveals that the Egyptian government sought to buy a political position from the new US administration, paying half a billion dollars in return, despite the presence of better commercial and technical offers.
But there were recurring breakdowns that appeared during the first days of the operation of the GE locomotives, which was addressed by Al-Masry Al-Youm and Youm7 newspapers which documented the recurrence of breakdown incidents, which prompted arrival of a technical committee from the American manufacturer of locomotives to find out the causes of repeated breakdowns.
Back once again to the memorandum prepared by the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry to receive Mike Pence, it revealed the corridors of a public opinion issue shrouded in mystery and affecting the Egyptian-American relations since the days when the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) took over reins of government in Egypt after the January revolution.
After midnight, 17 foreign defendants, including Americans, were transferred to Cyprus onboard a private American plane that left Cairo airport after an Egyptian judge ordered cancellation of the travel ban imposed on foreign defendants in the case.
The case involving Egyptian and foreign defendants remained open in courts, leaving the door open for the dispute between Cairo and Washington until the Egyptian government made a generous offer that was revealed by the memorandum of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The memo says that Cairo sought to open a new page with the US administration during the Trump era, exerting relentless efforts to settle the status of American defendants in the foreign funding case of non-governmental organizations, by proposing an unconventional legal path leading to the legal closure of the case.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry confirmed in a handwritten comment that the special situation and the preferential treatment of the American defendants was only achieved after the American side responded by sending a legal delegation to settle the case.
The American defendants enjoyed distinguished treatment, while the funds of the Egyptian defendants and Egyptian non-governmental organizations were frozen, and convictions and travel bans were passed against them.
In what appears to be a personal interest from Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to settle the case of the American defendants in the case, Al-Jazeera directly obtained an official document issued by the Presidential Office, classified as “Top Secret” addressed to a number of security and sovereign bodies in Egypt, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and General Intelligence Service.
The memorandum, which was signed by Major General Abbas Kamel then director of the President of the Republic’s office, included directions from Sisi during the meeting of the Presidency’s Security Committee on August 7, 2017, to follow up on the foreign funding case in light of recent developments.
The memo says that there was interference from Sisi in the course of the foreign funding, which raises questions about the independence and impartiality of the Egyptian judiciary!
In a related context, one of the points contained in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s memorandum referred to the Egyptian side’s response to President Trump’s request during Sisi’s visit to the US in April 2017 to quickly allow Egyptian/American citizen Aya Hegazy, allowing her to leave the country as soon as an acquittal verdict was issued for her.
President Trump had received Aya Hegazy at the White House after she and her non-American husband left in a private American plane with extraordinary facilities.
Finally, an important point contained in the Egyptian Foreign Affairs mem revealed that when Egypt withdrew a UN Security Council draft resolution representing the Arab group, condemning settlements in December 2016, in fact this came in response to Trump’s demand, who had not yet been sworn in as President of the United States.
The withdrawal of the draft resolution led to a storm of Palestinian anger and Arab disappointment, prompting Egyptian politicians and writers to consider this as a mistake, for violating the Arab Quartet decision, before other countries reintroduced the draft resolution that was adopted by the UN Security Council after the Arabs ensured that the American delegate did not contest the right of veto. This was considered a great diplomatic victory that Egypt did not achieve despite the efforts it had made in favor of the draft resolution, as its UN representative emphasized:
Throughout Donald Trump’s presidency, Egypt’s Sisi enjoyed an intimate relationship with the most powerful president in the world, where The Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump described Sisi as his favorite dictator before a meeting that included both of them on the sidelines of the Davos Economic Forum in September 2019.
According to observers and human rights activists, the Trump administration has been overlooking human rights violations in Egypt, to the point that Mike Pence said on the plane as he was about to leave Cairo, that he had obtained a promise from Sisi regarding American citizens held in Egyptian prisons.
However, Pence left and what he was promised during his visit to Egypt was not fulfilled, as Mostafa Qassem, an Egyptian/American citizen, remained in prison until he died after a long hunger strike, whose death sparked anger in the American street, highlighting the nature of the relationship between the previous US administration and the Egyptian government which admitted provision of a lot of things politically and economically to appease Trump. What can the Egyptian regime give to US President Joe Biden, whose new administration has been sending different messages to Cairo, with highlights of “Human Rights First”!