Hearing Wrap-Up: Challenges Confront U.S.-Egypt Relations

June 17, 2016

The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa held an important hearing Wednesday on the status and future of U.S.-Egypt relations.  Ambassador Mark Green, president of the International Republican Institute; Mokhtar Awad, research fellow at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism; and Amy Hawthorne, deputy director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy testified before this important panel.

FPI believes the following quotations from the panelists’ prepared testimony will make clear the need for Washington to reassess its approach to Cairo.

The U.S.-Egypt Bilateral Relationship

“Egypt is on an uncertain and dangerous trajectory. In short, we should all be deeply concerned about the plight of citizen rights and freedoms, the prospects for long term stability and the future of the U.S.-Egypt relationship itself.” – Ambassador Green

“If we really care about Egypt not becoming a source of instability and insecurity, we need to send a strong signal of support for the people of Egypt, especially for those citizens who espouse democratic values…U.S. policy toward Egypt must balance the need for short-term security cooperation with the Egyptian government with attention to the medium-term risks for Egypt’s stability if the current intense repression continues.” – Ms. Hawthorne

“The United State and Egypt need to build new anchors for the bilateral relationship. These anchors should center on upgrading the security relationship, which remains the top priority, but we also need to work together to find new constructive approaches on economic and governance reforms vital for Egypt’s continued stability and in ensuring dignity and economic opportunity for 90 million Egyptians, whose ranks grow roughly by 1 million people every six months.” – Mr. Awad

Repression Under Sisi

“The scale of oppression is worse than under Mubarak’s three decades of autocratic rule or [Mohamed] Morsi’s one year in office.” – Ms. Hawthorne

“Morsi’s removal from power through a military coup prevented Egypt from careening down a dangerous path of combative political Islamism. However, we must also acknowledge that in the three years since, Egypt’s internal situation has simply not improved under President Abdel Fatah El Sisi; to the contrary, polarization within Egyptian society and the threat of extremism are growing steadily worse both in the Sinai and within Egyptian society.” – Ambassador Green

“The Egyptian government’s response to its security challenges has been heavy handed and clumsy, amounting more to a wholesale crackdown on dissent than an effective effort to root out and interdict extremists. Particularly troubling has been the increase in state-sponsored extrajudicial forced disappearances. In 2015 alone, there were over 1,800 reported cases of forced disappearances.” – Ambassador Green

“The policies of the current regime are generating or worsening the conditions that feed broader discontent, the alienation and radicalization of young Egyptians, and future unrest…[A]uthoritarian rule imposed in an attempt to control a youthful, economically-marginalized population with unmet aspirations for greater opportunity simply is not sustainable.” – Ms. Hawthorne

“It's not hard to see parallels in today's conditions to the sweeping sense of marginalization and alienation that fueled mass protests in 2011.” – Ambassador Gree

The Islamic State and Other Extremists

“Immediately following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood from power in July 2013, a diverse array of violent Islamist groups stepped up their activities aimed at destabilizing the new government. Over 900 security servicemen have lost their lives to Islamist violence since then, making it the deadliest Islamist insurgency in the country’s modern history. The threat to Egypt comes from three different geographic theatres – the Sinai, the Nile Valley, and the Western Desert – and three different types of actors – Salafi Jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State, others who are with or lean towards Al Qaeda, and a new category of violent Islamists affiliated with some factions inside the Muslim Brotherhood and allied Islamists.” – Mr. Awad

“Although Wilayat Sinai [an ISIS affiliate] remains relatively contained and isolated geographically, some troubling trends must be monitored closely. The transformation of the group since its pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State in November 2014 makes it one of the most active Islamic State branches. The Islamic State appears to have completely subsumed the local affiliate as its attacks and strategy seem to clearly advance Islamic State core strategic interests. The group’s downing of a Russian airliner in October 2015, instantly killing over 200 civilians, is the best demonstration of this as up to that point it had avoided mass civilian casualties.” – Mr. Awad

“There is a genuine risk that the unaccountable security state in Egypt today is unable to address Egypt’s urgent social, economic and political challenges productively and may be expanding the pool of Egyptians susceptible to radicalization and violence – developments that threaten Egypt’s stability as well as U.S. interests.” – Ms. Hawthorne

“It is worth asking why, when Egypt faces a genuine terrorist threat, so many state resources are being deployed so assiduously against peaceful activists, journalists, and other such citizens. It is also worth asking whether a state carrying out such vast repression will possess the necessary moral authority and legitimacy before key sectors of its own population to succeed in the urgent campaign against the false narrative of the Islamic State.” – Ms. Hawthorne

Balancing Security and Democracy

“Considering the complex challenges the Sisi government faces, it would be tempting to rationalize some of its practices as merely an effort to stabilize the country or ‘buy time’ for later opportunities to take on democratic and civil rights reform. However, the government's actions and rhetoric offer not a single morsel of evidence to support that hopeful notion. Meanwhile, the security situation grows more tenuous and repressive.” – Ambassador Green

“Significant democratic progress is unlikely in the foreseeable future, but it is possible to envision an easing of the human rights crackdown that would relieve pressures in Egyptian society and expand the space for peaceful expression. Our goal should be supporting Egyptians who want a more tolerant, democratic country remain alive and buy time, to help keep open even a small political space for peaceful participation and peaceful change.” – Ms. Hawthorne

“[T]he argument that Egypt will be more responsive to private diplomacy rather than public criticism is not supported by experience, and can become an excuse for inaction. Egypt remains sensitive to its international image and seeks U.S. and other international endorsement of its political trajectory. There are examples in recent years where the United States has been able to achieve small, yet meaningful, progress on human-rights related issues in Egypt due to a combination of public statements, private pressure, and sustained efforts in coordination with our democratic allies.” – Ms. Hawthorne

The Egyptian Economy

“Economically, Egypt would be in a free fall right now were it not for significant financial aid from several Gulf States, including a recently announced $22 billion oil deal and assistance package from Saudi Arabia. This latest infusion is very unlikely to overcome the economy's significant structural challenges. The situation is compounded by declining tourism revenue, rising youth unemployment and rapid population growth. To date, there are few signs that President Sisi will exercise the political will needed to address these problems.” – Ambassador Green

“To be sure, there is no quick fix for Egypt’s economic problems, especially the complex one of unemployment, which requires labor market reforms, major changes to the educational system, and boosting different productive sectors and small and medium businesses. But Sisi’s government has hesitated even to launch a serious program to fix these and other problems. Indeed, despite government rhetoric, Sisi’s commitment to a reform path is uncertain.” – Ms. Hawthorne

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More