Security Trumps Democracy in US Arms Sale to Egypt

April 02,2015

President Barack Obama has resumed sales of big ticket military items to Egypt, citing U.S. national security interests in the increasingly chaotic Middle East. Washington has difficulty keeping balance between supporting democracy and countering terrorist threats in the region.

Citing national security interests, Washington has bypassed Egypt's dismal human rights and democracy record and sold the country F-16 fighter jets, Harpoon missiles and Abrams tank kits.

But by not pushing harder for improved human rights and security force accountability in Egypt, the U.S. administration risks pushing more people towards extremist groups, warns Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

"There’s no question right now that if you join with the US and focus on fighting ISIS and other related terrorist threats, that the other concerns one might have in your country are going to get a pass. We see this throughout the region," said Margon.

Multiple crises erupting across the Middle East, including the emergence of ISIS, or the Islamic State extremists, may be pushing the administration into supporting traditional allies even when those alliances may be difficult, says former Ambassador James Jeffrey.

"The administration needs to do more to, as I said a bit ago, advance relationships with the nation states and the leaders of the region, even if we don’t like some things about them, because we are all endangered by the forces that have been unleashed from North Africa to Pakistan," said Jeffrey.
The latest military sales to Egypt will not likely significantly alter the regional power balance, but it does convey Washington's support for stability versus the constantly shifting conflicts in the Middle East.

The United States just does not have any good policy options left in the region, says Aram Nerguizian, senior fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“The short answer is, the U.S. wants to have a relationship with Egypt, a country of 80 million people, that will likely be 100 million by 2030, the single largest Arab state in terms of demographics, and an important state in terms of stability," said Nerguizian.

It is not clear how much of a stabilizing influence Egypt will prove to be.

But having Cairo aligned with Washington and traditional U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia will at least give the impression of a united front against rival Iran and others challenging the status quo.