President Obama’s October 9th decision to suspend millions of dollars in U.S. military aid to Egypt came after two years of intense public pressure following Mubarak’s ouster. In all likelihood, however, it is probably a temporary scheme to avoid further public allegations that Obama supports the dictatorial coup regime in Egypt.
But it may have been even more cynical than that. One of the biggest problems with U.S. military aid to Egypt is the small arms and riot gear that security forces use to disperse crowds of peaceful protesters or crack down more generally on the population’s democratic ambitions. This type of aid may not be included in the suspension, but it’s hard to know because unless the arms transfer is a multi-million dollar war plane, they often are not even publicly disclosed.
Amnesty International lays out what Obama needs to do for the suspension of Egypt aid to actually mean something. Geoffrey Mock says “It’s time to ensure that Egyptian human rights violations don’t come labeled ‘Made in the USA.,'” and lists recommendations Amnesty has sent in a letter to the White House.
- Stop putting lives at risk: The U.S. government should publicly halt the transfer of all small arms, light weapons, related ammunition, equipment and vehicles that bear a substantial risk of being used by Egypt’s security forces to commit human rights violations. These human rights violations include the violent dispersals of crowds and unwarranted lethal force against protesters.
- Make U.S. arms exports public: The U.S. should publicly disclose its arms exports and transfers to Egypt. The arms sales of greatest concern are often of low dollar value and seldom subject to public scrutiny or Congressional reporting requirements. The U.S. public needs to know what weapons its government is sending to Egypt, and why.
- Don’t train violators: The U.S. should prioritize training and assistance arrangements that include rigorous practical exercises and operating standards designed to advance full respect for international human rights law. Egyptian participants – both trainees and trainers – should be vetted to make sure they are not themselves implicated in serious human rights abuses.
Mock also worries about the potential that “U.S. arms sales quietly resume months down the road with no real changes in the behavior and accountability of Egyptian security forces.”
I see that as likely. But I also don’t think the current crop of political elites in Washington should be able to get away with the several decades of military and economic support for a brutal political system in Egypt. Unless you want to, ya know, look forward and not back.