The Obama administration’s announced suspension of some military aid to Egypt is a sham.
Far from actually withdrawing significant US support for the Egyptian military dictatorship that overthrew the country’s elected president on 3 July, the package of measures is designed to reinforce and normalize US cooperation with the coup regime, secure Israel’s interests and US regional hegemony.
It also ensures that Egypt continues to help Israel to maintain the collective punishment of almost 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Israel lobby pressure
Obama has been under intense pressure from the Israel lobby to maintain US support for the coup regime.
This week, for instance, prominent Israel lobbyist Jeffrey Goldberg appealed to Obama to maintain the aid in order to benefit Israel and prop up Arab client regimes including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Goldberg sees these Arab dictatorships as part of a region-wide sectarian confrontation with Iran, in which the Arab regimes are on the same side as Israel and the United States.
Goldberg was especially anxious that the Gaza siege continue:
Egypt is pressing hard against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, cutting off the flow of weapons and sealing smuggling tunnels. A weak Hamas is in the best interests of the US, Israel and, most important, the rival Palestinian Authority, with which Israel is currently negotiating under US supervision.
But, of course, the siege does not simply ensure a “weak Hamas.” While there’s no evidence any weapons supplies to the resistance have been disrupted, what have been choked are basic supplies for the population and the ability of Gaza students, patients and others to leave what is in effect a giant prison.
The Israeli-Egyptian siege imposes brutal collective punishment on the whole population of Gaza. Goldberg, as a former Israeli prison guard, clearly has no moral problem with this.
Goldberg’s demands are consistent with the messaging that has come from Israel and its lobby since the first day of the coup in Egypt.
They are also consistent with broader US “core interests” outlined by Obama in his UN speech of maintaining US regional hegemony and dominance, which means ensuring the existence of client regimes like Egypt’s.
Obama administration explains
On 9 October, the State Department released the transcript of a conference call between reporters and five unnamed senior US officials explaining Obama’s measures toward Egypt.
The officials explain that the measures will include delaying the deliveries of some major weapons systems, including Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles and parts for M1A1 tanks.
They also include suspending direct cash assistance – about $260 million annually – to the “interim government.”
But a close reading of the 5,800-word transcript makes clear that the aid suspension is merely symbolic.
Most forms of US military support for the Egyptian army will continue and there’s no reason to believe the coup regime will be affected by the announced measures.
I will excerpt some of the key passages that indicate just how hollow and cyncial Obama’s move is.
Critical of Morsi but not of massacres
It is notable that the Obama administration is still far more critical of Egypt’s deposed elected president Muhammad Morsi than it is of the military regime.
“Senior Administration Official Number One” repeatedly criticized Morsi, effectively providing justifications for the coup. For example:
Now since then, we recognize, and the President [Obama] noted this in his remarks to the General Assembly a couple of weeks ago, that Muhammad Morsi was democratically elected, but he proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive.
But look how the same official characterizes the actions of the military regime headed by General Abdulfattah al-Sisi and fronted by a puppet civilian “interim government”:
Now since then, the interim government that replaced him [Morsi] last summer, we recognized had the support of millions of Egyptians who believed that that revolution had taken a wrong turn. But we think that it too has made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy, which sort of leads us to where we are now.
First, the Obama administration still seems attached to the dubious claim that the coup had the support of “millions.”
Is this based on anything other than fabricated and unrealistic crowd figures?
But more important at this moment: think about the phrase “decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy.”
In fact, what the coup regime has done in Egypt since 3 July is perpetrate repeated massacres of unarmed civilians unprecedented in Egyptian history, leaving thousands dead and injured. The most recent massacre of more than 50 people occurred on 6 October.
The coup regime has carried out a brutal political crackdown, pursuing and arresting thousands of people for their political views or perceived political views.
None of this is mentioned by the US officials.
It’s still not a “coup”
“Senior Administration Official Number One” was also careful to emphasize that: “Nothing has changed in terms of approaching what you called the coup restriction.”
The Obama administration still “didn’t make a determination, haven’t made a determination, don’t think we need to make a determination, are acting consistent with the provisions of the law and we’ll continue to do so.”
US law requires that military assistance to a foreign country be suspended when a “coup” takes place in that country. By refusing to call what happened a coup, the Obama administration aims to get around the law and ensure that it can continue to support the Egyptian dictatorship.
Obama loves Sisi
So there’s no mention of the Egypt coup regime’s massacres or mass arrests – unless we consider these to be covered by the absurd euphemism “decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy.”
And it’s still not a coup. But also, check out the ongoing love affair the US has with Egyptian coup leader al-Sisi and his clique.
Here’s how “Senior Administration Official Number Three” characterized US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s telephone conversation with al-Sisi:
It was very friendly. In fact, Secretary Hagel noted that he had spoken with Minister al-Sisi more than any of his other counterparts, actually. I think they’ve spoken with each other over twenty times in the last several months. And he said they’ve done so for a reason. It underscores the importance of the US-Egypt relationship. And Secretary Hagel stressed the long history and friendship between the United States and the Egyptian people, and Minister al-Sisi concurred and affirmed that as well.
These are not just formalities. As the same official stressed, the US would be doing nothing to freeze out al-Sisi and his clique:
General al-Sisi, as many of you know, is himself a graduate of the Army War College. And this week, right now in the United States, there are Egyptian military officers in classrooms, receiving training about counterterrorism, meeting shared security objectives, and really building those relationships that have been maintained for generations. And that will continue. And that was really the spirit of their call, that the ongoing important parts of the relationship are going on, and both Minister al-Sisi and Secretary Hagel committed to taking steps to continue that.
US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1939, “Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
The same logic clearly applies to al-Sisi and his accomplices in the massacres and arrests of thousands of Egyptians.
A slap on the wrist
Naturally, in keeping with this warm relationship, a careful reading of the transcript indicates that Obama’s measures amount to no more than a slap on the wrist.
For one thing, Senior Administration Official Number One had difficulty putting a dollar value on the supposed sanctions in response to reporters’ questions:
That actually does make it difficult -– and others will comment on this -– to give you specific answers on the numbers, because it’s not as if there’s some finite thing that has been stopped necessarily forever.
The official also assured that US “contractors” – the people who make and deliver the weapons, training and spare parts to the Egyptian military – will continue to be paid.
Another official was at pains to emphasize that “I think what we’re trying to make clear is this is not meant to be permanent…you’ll notice that it’s not being presented or announced in terms of definitive ends to any specific programs.”
That official also stressed that the measures “weren’t suggested or recommended in a punitive way or anything like that.”
Yes we noticed.
Aid to Egypt is aid to Israel
Throughout the transcript, the US officials emphasized that what will not be affected – even temporarily or symbolically – is the aid that helps the Egyptian coup regime besiege Gaza:
Secretary Hagel emphasized how important the US-Egypt relationship was to the stability and security for Egypt, but for the United States as well and the broader Middle East. And Secretary Hagel made the key point that the US-Egyptian security relationship and assistance relationship is continuing, and made the point, as Senior Administration Official Two said, that we are continuing to provide assistance on the issues that advance both our vital security objectives. That includes countering terrorism, countering proliferation, border security, ensuring security in the Sinai, working with peace with Israel, and includes things that include also spare parts, replacement parts, along those lines.
This was repeated:
first was to make sure that we were continuing the things that were immediately needed for the goals we talked about – counterterrorism, Sinai, borders, the peace treaty, and keeping the peace with Israel.
What matters to US is not the welfare of Egyptians
Last weekend I was a participant in the Istanbul World Forum meeting focusing on the coup in Egypt and its regional consequences, organized by Turkey’s SETA Foundation.
It was a rich set of discussions, but I want to emphasize two points, one I made myself and one made by other participants.
My own point: the only red line in US-Egyptian relations is maintaining the Camp David treaty with Israel and assuring Egypt’s ability to act as a security subcontractor for Israel.
Everything else – especially the lives, welfare and freedoms of Egyptians and consequently Palestinians besieged in Gaza – is subordinate. The Obama administration announcement about aid to Egypt clearly supports this view.
Secondly, a point made by several participants: the actual “security” situation in Sinai and along the border with Gaza does not justify by any stretch the Egyptian coup regime’s war footing in Sinai and against Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed the regime’s actions are fueling violence and disorder.
Rather, Sinai is being used as a pretext to justify the coup regime’s bloody crackdown and to incite the Egyptian population against supposed “foreign” enemies – Palestinians, Syrians and even Egypt’s own Muslim Brotherhood – while the regime consolidates itself in power.
Therefore, US insistence on playing along with the Sinai narrative helps the regime and does nothing to advance the supposed US goal of restoring democracy in Egypt.
That, after all, might well be the intent.