Egypt is expecting to receive new U.S. Apache attack helicopters, after American officials on Tuesday announced that a temporary freeze on the delivery of major weapons would be lifted.
In recent months, the U.S. had placed a freeze on military aid amid Washington’s concerns about Egypt’s failure to embrace democratic reforms following the ouster of President Mohammad Mursi.
Now, officials are citing Cairo’s commitment to its peace treaty with Israel as a reason behind the resumption of military aid deliveries.
In a phone call on Tuesday, Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel informed Egyptian Defense Minister General Sedki Sobhy of President Barack Obama’s decision to send the Apache helicopters, according to Agence France-Presse.
The choppers are meant to boost counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, a move to further bolster both Egypt and Israel’s attempt to confront militants in the area.
“The U.S. has no strategic interest in seeing Egypt destabilized by terrorist groups, therefore, it has a paramount interest in making sure its military remains outfitted with the latest military hardware,” Justin Dargin, a geopolitical expert at Oxford University, told Al Arabiya News.
To signal its displeasure with Cairo’s crackdown on dissent, the Obama administration had imposed a temporary freeze on the delivery of major weapons to Egypt, including the Apache helicopters as well as fighter jets and other hardware.
“There was never any doubt that U.S. military aid to Egypt would be resumed,” Joel Beinin, a U.S.-based professor of Middle East history, told Al Arabiya News on Wednesday.
Beinin referred to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s statement on the military overthrow of Mursi in July 2013, which Kerry had described as “restoring democracy.”
“This was a clear signal that the suspension of military aid would last only long enough so that the details of the events would be forgotten by the American public.”
Last year, Washington chose not to cut off all aid to Egypt’s military-backed government and avoided officially labeling the ouster of Mursi a coup as it struggled to balance its concerns over human rights abuses.
The 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty
Ultimately, the U.S. has focused on its strategic interest in keeping up counter-terrorism ties with Cairo and maintaining the Egypt-Israel peace accord.
Hagel told his counterpart that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will “soon certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty,” Hagel’s spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said.
The certifications are required before U.S. government funds can be allocated to Egypt, he said, according to AFP.
“One of the goals is Egypt's participation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Without Egypt's involvement at some level, everything collapses. Furthermore, the U.S. recognizes that if it does not assist Egypt, then Egypt will merely turn to Russia or China and America's influence will wane," Dargin said.
Hagel, however, told the Egyptian minister that “we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition,” Kirby said.
Hagel “urged the Egyptian government to demonstrate progress on a more inclusive transition that respects the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Egyptians.”
According to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, Kerry delivered a similar message to Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, Kerry told his counterpart Egypt was carrying out its obligations under the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and that Cairo remained an important strategic partner for the United States.
But Kerry said he could not certify that Egypt was pursuing a “democratic transition” and urged the government to conduct “free, fair, and transparent elections” set to be held in May. Former military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the favorite to win the vote amid a surge in his popularity since ousting Mursi last year.
“The U.S. understands that like it or not, the new administration is here to stay and the U.S. has several strategic goals of which it is necessary to have Egypt on board,” Dargin said.