Speaking in Cairo on Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry reassured Egyptian officials that the country’s human rights abuses will not get in the way of further boosts to U.S. aid, arms, and military “cooperation.”
“Egypt remains vital … to engagement and stability in the region as a whole,” said Kerry at joint appearance with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri following a weekend of bilateral talks. “There are obviously circumstances where we have found reason to have grave concern and we have expressed it very publicly, but we have multiple issues that we need to work on simultaneously.”
Kerry announced that the U.S. is planning to resume “Bright Star” joint military exercises with Egypt, which President Barack Obama halted in 2013 over concerns about the government’s human rights abuses. The U.S. is also planning to boost efforts to train Egypt’s military and help the country police its border with Libya.
In a sign of this military backing, the U.S. embassy in Cairo marked Kerry’s arrival with the following announcement of a fresh arms shipment, following by the Arabic declaration, “Long live Egypt”—which has been adopted as a slogan by al-Sisi.
The U.S. has already thrown its strong support behind coup leader and current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, including a recent resumption in annual aid—most of which is military—that waives human rights concerns.
The backing comes as al-Sisi oversees an increase in authoritarianism that some analysts warn is the worst the country has seen in 60 years—including during the regime of former U.S.-backed President Hosni Mubarak who was toppled by a popular uprising in 2011.
A report released by Amnesty International in June warned the Egyptian government is funneling an entire generation of young activists, journalists, and even bystanders from the streets into prisons: “More than a year after he came to power, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has shown no sign of easing its repressive rule. The crackdown has seen more than 41,000 people arrested, charged or indicted with a criminal offense, or sentenced after unfair trials, according to the last available estimates by Egyptian human rights activists.”
Writing in The Intercept on Monday, journalist Glenn Greenwald argued that the Obama administration likely “lavished the regime with aid, money and weapons” not despite—but because of—its repression.
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“None of that is new: a staple of U.S. foreign policy has long been to support heinous regimes as long as they carry out U.S. dictates, all in order to keep domestic populations in check and prevent their views and beliefs (which are often averse to the U.S.) from having any effect on the actions of their own government,” wrote Greenwald.
Kerry’s visit, moreover, coincided with global outcry at the up to 67 Egyptian and international journalists incarcerated in the country. To the incredulity of rights campaigners, Shukri declared while sitting alongside Kerry that Egypt does not incarcerate journalists because of their reporting.
During Kerry’s visit, an Egyptian court delayed its planned announcement of verdicts for numerous jailed journalists, who face baseless charges, including three Al Jazeera-English reporters. Many expressed concern about what the delay will mean for those reporters still jailed, including photojournalist Majmoud Abu Zeid, who has been incarcerated nearly two years without due process.