U.S. President Joe Biden is facing a renewed scrutiny of U.S. relations with Egypt-and his vow to uphold the rights abuses committed by the government of President Abdel Fattah el- Sisi – after 11 days of lethal violence in the Gaza Strip.
Washington this month relied heavily on Egyptian mediators, closing between Tel Aviv and Gaza to reach and sustain a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian faction Hamas, which controls the excavated Palestinian territory.
In doing so, the Biden administration has faced remaining questions about its commitment to adopt a “human rights-centered” approach to Egypt, which has long served as a mediator in the Israel-Palestine conflict as one of the few countries that both Israel and Hamas are involved in.
The president of the US before SAYS there are “no more blank checks” for el-Sisi, whom he called Donald Trump’s “favorite dictator” before, but some rights advocates say Biden has already fallen into office that .
“Once again, we see nothing changing,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a think-tank based in Washington, DC.
“[Antony] Blinken did not meet with a civil society representative on his retirement in Cairo, ”he told the US secretary of state. visiting the capital of Egypt last week in support of the ceasefire.
“He has said nothing more about human rights than [former Secretary of State Mike] Pompey and the Trump administration before him. ”
In two calls between Biden and el -Sisi this month – the first from Biden’s inauguration in January – the U.S. president “thanked Egypt for successful diplomacy”, according to readings from the White House. “President Biden stressed the importance of a constructive dialogue on human rights in Egypt,” the statement added.
During Wednesday’s visit to Cairo, Blinken also confirmed the U.S.’s “strategic partnership” with Egypt.
He told reporters he had a “lengthy discussion and exchange of human rights” with the Egyptian leader, who came to power in 2013. military coup overthrew President Moh Morsi. El-Sisi is the latest re-elected in 2018, running almost unopposed after his boss was caught challenging and several candidates stopped quoting.
Seth Binder, advocacy officer at the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), said the show of gratitude to the Biden administration “misread” the situation and sent the wrong message to Cairo.
Important meeting with Egyptian President Sisi today. I express President Biden’s gratitude for Egypt’s critical mediation efforts to support a ceasefire and affirm the strategic partnership between the United States and Egypt. pic.twitter.com/NzW83ivpAC
– Secretary Antony Blinken (@SecBlinken) May 26, 2021
“The Egyptians did it in their own interest,” he told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have to bend backwards to try to make them happy to do what they want.
“We can still work with them to account for a ceasefire, and to equally pressure them and continue to focus on human rights in the relationship.”
For el-Sisi, the time of mediation in Gaza is “Manna from heaven”, said Michele Dunne, director and a senior fellow of the Carnegie Endowment program for the Middle East program of International Peace.
This increased the fairness of the Egyptian leader as the Biden administration sought to focus foreign policy on the rest of the Middle East and the world, and allowed el-Sisi to “show his usefulness”, Dunne said. on Al Jazeera.
He pointed out that the Egyptian leader this time embraced the political benefit of serving as a mediator with Hamas, compared to 2014 Gaza war, in which he treated Hamas as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and supported the Israeli invasion.
“I’m sure Sisi hopes that his usefulness in dealing with Hamas and perhaps his usefulness in helping humanitarian relief in Gaza will pass on human rights and other issues in U.S.-Egypt relations,” Dunne said.
The most recent round of engagement came as el-Sisi fought not only over the Biden administration’s stated position, but also with U.S. lawmakers increasingly critical of U.S. military aid to Egypt, which up to $ 1.3bn annually.
In recent years, Congress has consistently passed legislation requiring the State Department to certify that Egypt has taken steps to meet human rights standards before releasing the funds.
Last year, Congress passed a bill that conditioned $ 75m in aid to release Cairo political prisoners and meet other human rights standards – and there was no provision for a bidding on State Department.
Some in the U.S. have also questioned the broad strategic significance of Egypt, which was once considered a certainty given Cairo’s influence in the Arab world, control of the Suez Canal – an arterial trade route connecting the Mediterranean and of the Red Sea – and the land border of the Gaza Strip.
However, the Biden administration has shown it may not be able to keep up with policy changes, disappointing rights activists and some lawmakers by approving. a $ 197m sold of missiles and related equipment in Egypt in February.
That came a month before the State Department’s annual human rights report drew up a laundry list of Egypt’s abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, detention of journalists. and political opposition, and violence against the LGBTQ community.
The El-Sisi government is waging a widespread arrest campaign against rights activists, journalists, and other suspected critics-and an estimated 60,000 Egyptians are still imprisoned.
Recently also US-based Egyptian rights activists accused the Egyptian government to arrest their relatives in Egypt as a way to force them into silence – an accusation rejected by el -Sisi, but whose rights groups have raised serious alarm.
“The current conflict brings up uncomfortable questions and policy problems that the Biden administration doesn’t want to deal with,” Dunne told Al Jazeera. “And they will face a lot of difficult decisions.”