Egypt is still an important US ally in the Middle East. That much is understood. Indeed, over the last three decades it has been the recipient of close to $80 billion in military and economic assistance. And this trend is set to continue with Washington recently giving the go-ahead, by way of national security waiver, to release some $1.2 billion in military aid.
That this comes at a time when Egyptian courts have sentenced to death 75 people — including senior members of the Muslim Brotherhood — raises concerns about American commitment to human rights in the volatile region.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Cairo to overturn the mass execution ruling. The case dates back to the 2013 protests against the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi; a Muslim Brotherhood member and the country’s first-elected president. At the time, the US did halt military aid in terms of cash inflows and weapons; but only partially. Naturally, this fell far short of condemning the regime change outright. This is not to mention reports of the Obama administration funding anti-Morsi elements through the State Department’s “democratic assistance” programme.
Thus Washington’s manoeuvres today should be recognised as par for the course. Cairo, after all, has always been vital to its geo-strategic ambitions. Not least because the army plays a critical role in protecting the Suez Canal through which some 10 percent of all international trade passes. In fact, a reported 30 percent of container traffic passes through the waterway, including Chinese consumer goods en route to western markets.
That being said, the prioritising of geo-strategic gains over human rights abuses represents a dangerous trajectory. And one that the US has been pursuing for far too long. As a consequence, it is losing the moral authority to police the world. For Egyptian state brutality is overlooked while that of the Syrian regime is not. This gives way to false and competing narratives resulting in particular nations playing the victim card. Whereas all state-sponsored violence against local populations must be denounced across the board. No ifs and buts. Not least because failure on this front strengthens the Islamist hand. And when this happens, the citizenry becomes soft targets. In addition, American interests overseas also become vulnerable to attack.
The gravest fallout, however, is the way in which this blatant hypocrisy weakens the UN’s position as a force for good. The world is home to an unprecedented number of ongoing internationalised conflicts; the peoples of Kashmir and Palestine continue to be deprived of their right to self-determination; terror groups such as ISIS are on the rise amid reports of a resurgent and deadly Al Qaeda; and curbs on press freedoms appear under fire everywhere. In short, the global community should be coming together to make the world body’s job easier. Sadly, this is not happening.
The UN, however, must show some backbone. In terms of not just criticising Cairo on death sentences — but also when it comes to the US double standard on human rights. *
Published in Daily Times, September 11th 2018.