Two sudden announcements this week introduced discord in the formerly harmonious relationship between Washington and Cairo.
First, Reuters reported on Tuesday that the US would deny nearly $300 million in planned aid to Egypt over Egyptian President Abdel el-Sisi's crackdown on political opponents and other human rights violations. In response, Cairo cancelled a planned meeting between Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jared Kushner, senior adviser to US President Donald Trump.
"We agree on so many things," Trump said of el-Sisi in April. "I just want to let everyone know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President el-Sisi … he's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation. We are very much behind Egypt and the people of Egypt and the United States has, believe me, backing — believe me, we have strong backing."
Loud & Clear's Brian Becker was joined by Ali Abunimah, an author and co-founder of the pro-Palestinian news outlet The Electronic Intifada. Abunimah, who was once described by Progressive newspaper The Forward as "the leading American proponent of a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," was asked by Becker to speak about the relationship between the US and Egyptian.
"Well the headline is that the visit… explored ways to restart the so-called peace process," said Abunimah. "But that is so far removed from any remote reality that it's hard to know what it is, if it's just a junket for Jared Kushner to keep him out of the White House or if it's just to see Trump's delusion that he's going to be the president who makes this incredible deal, because peace in the Middle East is so much easier than anyone thought."
Abunimah couldn't find any coherence in American policy, even on the issue of aid to the Egyptian dictatorship. He noted that "[Former US President Barack] Obama famously refused to call Sisi's military coup a military coup so that they could continue to send the military aid to Egypt. Trump also warmly embraced Sisi and endorsed him in terms much warmer than Obama … and then you see them now delaying or suspending this US military aid. So the policies are incoherent and seem to change from one day to the next."
As to why Trump pivoted from praising Sisi in April to tacitly condemning him in August, "I think the reality is that Trump is detached from reality, but the United States is a big country and a big bureaucracy and we have a military political establishment that is doing the things it wants to do," Abunimah suggested. "We saw that most dramatically [in] Trump's capitulation to what the generals want in Afghanistan, which is to continue the 16-year-old American war indefinitely with no end in sight, no possibility of the victory … it seems self-evident to lots of people that the wars create the terrorism and therefore you know more war is going to create more terrorism."
But after 16 years of the "so-called war on terror … the American intelligence community can't seemed to figure out that simple self-evident truth."
"There is an American establishment that continues with the same imperial policies no matter who the clown or the demon or the suave operator is in the White House," Abunimah said. Trump has capitulated to them.
As for the United States' continued support for Egypt, which been steady since the two nations and Israel sat down for the Camp David Accords in 1978, he said, "There is a small, very wealthy ruling elite in Egypt which has been plundering the country for decades. That plunder accelerated on steroids from the time of Sadat, when Sadat pivoted Egypt into the US-Israeli camp. They're very happy with the situation where 80 million people in Egypt are living in poverty, the country is falling apart, infrastructure is a catastrophe, basic services don't function. You have this very wealthy elite that controls the economy along with the military. The military is very much involved in the economy: it owns companies and lands and so on."
Abunimah recalled that when Sisi staged a military coup the issue of US aid was called into question, AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby, defended the new Egyptian regime, ensuring the $1.5 billion continued to arrive in Cairo. "Dictators come, dictators go, but those things have been constant."