President Barack Obama has personally told Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi that he will lift arms freeze that remained in effect since October 2013. The U.S. will resume supplying Egypt with F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits, Mr Obama told Mr al-Sisi over a phone call on March 31.
Cash and Weapons
Aside from the F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits, Obama will also request for an annual military budget of $1.3 billion for Egypt. Beginning in the fiscal year of 2018, the U.S. will channel “security assistance for Egypt to four categories – counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security, and maritime security – and for sustainment of weapons systems already in Egypt’s arsenal,” The White House said in a statement.
Mr Obama said that his decision will fortify the military assistance relationship between the two nations. With the recommencement of the military aid to Egypt, the two nations will be “better positioned to address the shared challenges in an unstable region, consistent with the longstanding strategic partnership between the two countries,” the White House sated.
Mr Obama also told al-Sisi about his concern regarding Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials, encouraging al-Sis to increase Egypt’s respect for freedom of speech and assembly, emphasizing that these issues remain a focus for the U.S.
What political experts were saying
According to officials within the Obama administration, the president’s decision was motivated by the increasing threats in the Sinai Peninsula.
“Given that higher level of threat, we felt it particularly important to make sure Egypt had all of the equipment it could possibly need to defend itself from these threats,” an official speaking under the condition of anonymity told The New York Times.
For Steven Simon, former Middle East adviser to Mr Obama, his decision could be read as an effort by the government to bolster its weak position in the Middle East.
“The U.S. is facing quite a few challenges, and it needs to shore up relations with allies. The assistance to Egypt was always predicated on its foreign policy, not its domestic policy. That was certainly the Egyptian understanding of it,” Simon told The New York Times.
For human rights advocates, Mr Obama’s decision is a show of surrender to al-Sisi. They said that Obama’s lifting of weapon freeze shows the government’s limited approach in terms of fighting terrorism.
“Unsurprisingly, in this case you see that national security priorities, broadly defined, trump virtually everything else. And that’s a very myopic, short-term approach to fighting terrorism,” Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, told The New York Times.
Amy Hawthorne from the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council in Washington said Mr Obama’s decision brings victory for the Egyptians. It will be read by al-Sisi as an acceptance of his legitimacy and willingness from Obama to ride along with his demands.
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