Foreign Policy Blogs

Does the Egyptian Military Regime Work for U.S. and Allies?

Egyptian President al-Sisi has made some questionable changes since taking power.

Egyptian President al-Sisi has made some questionable changes since taking power.

Since the Egyptian military ousted former President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood government in a coup in July 2013, a stricter and an increasingly oppressive rule governs Africa’s third most populous country, but one that may not be that unwelcome with the U.S. or its allies.

The new military regime — headed by former intelligence chief, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — has come under increased scrutiny by human rights groups for issues such as deaths of civilians while in state custodybrutalizing student protesters and increasingly censoring journalists working in country. The government recently passed a law that broadens the state’s definition of terrorism to include “anyone who threatens public order “by any means,” and allows for security forces to accuse potential terrorists without a trial, even going as far as freezing their assets and preventing them from traveling with only a simple approval from a panel of judges.

Do these actions sound familiar? They should. This was the reality for Egyptians for 30 years under former President Hosni Mubarak, a regime closely supported by the U.S. government.

While the U.S. generally shies away from what it considers an “oppressive regimes” — such as North Korea, Russia or Iran — in Egypt’s case, the U.S. may view the military-led government as providing a sigh of relief in the tumultuous Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Since Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi lit himself on fire, igniting the so-called Arab Spring, the landscape that once solidified many MENA countries under stern authoritarian rule transformed into a hotbed of religious radicalism and uncertainty. Libya has reverted to a state of lawlessness and a center for contraband trafficking and jihadist movements following a civil war and the murder of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Syria has been plunged into a civil war that has cost the lives of over 200,000 people and provided a landscape for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to emerge as a new face of global terror. While Iraq was not specifically a part of the Arab Spring, the country has been marred with an increasingly deteriorating security situation stemming from the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Given all of these unknown or untested situations and elements, some in Washington may view a firm hand in the largest Arab country on earth as a welcome change.

U.S.-ally Israel is certainly enjoying a renewal of relations with its southern neighbor. Since Sisi came to power, the relationship between Egypt and Israel has warmed significantlyEgypt has since destroyed over 1,600 tunnels between Sinai and Gaza and setup a buffer zone along the Egyptian border city of Raffah. Since Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Gaza is finding little sympathy from their Muslim neighbor. In addition, Sinai rebel groups and Islamic militant attacks against Egyptian security forces have forced Sisi to take a more aggressive stance to oust radical jihadist groups from the Sinai. All of these actions certainly benefit Israel in its ongoing security operations in the south.

On top of all of this, the emerging U.S. policy of energy independence is driving American security focuses away from MENA. The dwindling number of geopolitical incentives for the U.S. to intervene in MENA means that the American government will likely turn its focus elsewhere.

Now that ISIS in Libya has emerged on the scene with the gruesome beheading of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians in a video released by ISIS on Feb. 15, 2015, Egypt has utilized this horrific event to take the lead in combating ISIS in North Africa. It has begun retaliation bombings of supposed ISIS targets and called for an Arab coalition to battle ISIS, strengthening their hold on Middle East security.

So what does this all mean? What it means is that the new Egyptian government will likely face little resistance from global powers given the deteriorating situation of so many other states within MENA and the emergence of brutal non-state actors, such as ISIS. It also provides power to the Egyptian government to continue its crackdown on protesters, journalists, students and Islamic groups with little to no concern for human rights.

The U.S. may not emphatically support Sisi’s regime openly, but it is telling that it began providing military aid again just weeks after Sisi was sworn in.

The global security crisis in MENA and the unprecedented emergence of new and stronger jihadist terrorist groups from across the region have caused national security nightmares for the U.S. and its allies over the last four years. With Egypt’s new regime, this becomes a state that does not need policing to keep terrorist elements at bay, something that is a welcome change for Washington. While the U.S. may not agree with how the Egyptian government treats its civilians, having a willing power in the region helping temper the storm of global terrorism is not the worst trade-off the U.S. could ask for. Until things begin to stabilize in MENA, the U.S. may just live with a country it can count on for support, regardless of its human rights track record.

  • Brylee Beth Walker

    I agree that this is not the easiest decision for the United states. It is hard to know that what Egypt is doing to their citizens is not morally correct and we want to make it clear that we do not support that behavior. However, there is a bigger issue at stake. The growing terroristic activity around the world is a threat to the U.S. as well as Egypt and so many other places, and we have to contribute to aid in this bigger issue no matter what. I think that this situation calls for a utilitarian approach, and aiding the fight against terrorism is the best thing for the most amount of people right now.

  • Brylee Beth Walker

     The question is which matters more to the U.S.? Ethics or security? At some points in time it can be difficult to determine which is more important, however in this case I believe that the focus is relying more on the security aspects of the situation. In some ways, this is the ethical thing to do. The U.S. will do what it needs to do to keep the American people safe. However, it is not ethical in the way that by doing this and supporting Egypt, we are essentially supporting the awful ways that Egypt is treating its own citizens.

  • Rick Rein

    The U.S., at some point, must decide. Do we want to help spread democracy to other countries or do we want to keep propping up strongmen who we happen to believe we can work with. el-Sisi is accused of some fairly ghastly acts. As our Great Decisions book points out- el-Sisi is accused of “rigging an election, curbing demonstrations, muzzling the media and civil society, and reportedly using U.S.-built tanks to shell civilian areas in Sinai” (Great Decisions 2015 p. 59) This does not sound like any of the values we Americans could accept so why are our leaders so quick to accept and back yet another strongman.

  • Rick Rein

    The first thing we need to do is stop funding the Egyptian army. We provide tanks and aircraft, as well as considerable funding, to the tune of $1.5 billion a year to the Egyptian government. As our text points out, el-Sisi came to power as the result of a coup d’etat, which, by law, calls for an immediate cease of support from the U.S. Simply refusing to call it what it was and turning a blind eye doesn’t change that law. Again, do we want to lead by the example we set, or do we want to simply hope that maybe, just maybe, this time our U.S.-backed
    dictator will be friendly to us.

  • zulema

    Interesting, the U.S. gave over $ 1.3 billion in military aid ti the Egyptian government. that’s not giving, right. In additional to large amounts of annual U.S. military assistance, Egypt benefits from certain aid provisions that are available to only a few other countries. Since 2000, Egypt’s FMF funds have been deposited in an interest bearing account in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and have remained there until they are obligated. By law ( P.L.106-280), Congress must be notifies if any of the interest accrued in this account is obligated.. Cash flow financing allows Egypt to negotiate major arms purchases with U.S. defense suppliers..
    for better or worse Egypt’s is a valuable partner.

  • Migue Garcia

    United States is so focused on the fact that new jihadist terrorist have been emerging across the region that they have forgotten that the main priority is to protect the citizens in the same region keep the trouble way from our country. They are so focused on not losing power in Northern Africa that they will continue by any means, even if it means to provide military aid to groups that do not respect the ethics and the rights of their citizens. United States critics the idea of oppressive regimes from other countries but this situation is proving that the power could overweight ethics. United States should reorder their priorities and demonstrate that the priority will always be the security of the citizens that’s the only way it won’t be compare to countries like Russia and North Korea.

  • Colette Christine Greene

    There are several actions that the U.S. has taken in regards to Egypt that needs to be changed. This article shows the hypocritical nature the U.S. seems to take based on how beneficial the country is to them.
    Firstly, we are still providing support to Egypt after the coup d’etat against former President Mohammed Morsi. Law requires we halt support after a military coup, but the U.S. government surpassed this by never referring the change in government as a coup.
    Secondly, Egypt’s new government is “under increased scrutiny by human rights groups”. Due to their broadened definition of terrorism, Egypt is able to crack down on innocent people including extreme violence and death. Even though this is occurring, we are still providing military support. The problem with this is we have turned around and refused to sell heavy arms to Nigeria, citing humans rights abuses. How can we act as though we protect the innocent in one case, but then ignore them in the next?
    The reasoning behind these questionable acts is because the U.S. feels they can finally focus on other things while the Egyptian government controls the conflict in the MENA region. The problem with this is that there are innocent people being oppressed. History has shown that people who feel their voice is not being heard turn to radicalism and become another terrorist group such as ISIS.
    So the question remains, even though the U.S. feels they can stop worrying about conflict in the MENA region, will the conflict actually become worse and be a bigger problem for us in the future?


Daniel Donovan
Daniel Donovan

Daniel is the Executive Director of a non-profit development organization that focuses on building infrastructure and training in rural Sub-Saharan Africa called the African Community Advancement Initiative ( . He has a Master's degree graduate in International Relations with an emphasis on conflict resolution and development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Coupled with his extensive financial background, Daniel also works as a consultant for Consultancy Africa Intelligence in Pretoria and the Centre for Global Governance and Public Policy in Abu Dhabi. In addition to his work at FPA, he is also a regular contributor to The Continent Observer and International Policy Digest. He currently resides in Denver, CO.