“No more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator’ [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi],” tweeted then US presidential candidate Joe Biden five months before the 2020 election in response to the release of Mohamed Amashah. The 24-year-old Egyptian American medical student had been held for 486 days in an Egyptian prison for holding a protest sign calling for the release of the country’s political prisoners.
“Arresting, torturing, and exiling activists like Sarah Hegazy and Mohamed Soltan or threatening their families is unacceptable,” added Biden in his tweet.
Since taking the White House, President Biden has sung a notably different tune, showering President Sisi with no strings attached arms deals.
Since taking the White House, however, President Biden has sung a notably different tune, showering President Sisi, who seized power by overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsi in a bloody coup in 2013, with no strings attached arms deals, including the sale of 168 tactical missiles, totaling $197 million, in February.
The deal was approved by Biden while US citizens Hosam Khalaf, Khaled Hassan, and Ola al-Qaradawi remained locked in Sisi’s notorious torture dungeons, raising serious questions about the US President’s commitment to democracy and human rights and the power of the Israel Lobby continuing sway over the Democratic Party. Recent reports have revealed that Israel had lobbied the Biden administration and congressional members to “go easy on Cairo” due to Egypt’s security role in the region.
But far from providing or even encouraging security, peace, and democracy in the region, the Sisi regime is proactively sowing chaos by supporting the violent overthrow of democratically elected governments in North Africa, and the jailing and killing of those who peacefully resist, as the world has witnessed recently in Tunisia and Sudan.
Despite the Biden administration’s protestations, the Egyptian dictator backed the Sudanese military’s coup against the country’s democratic transitional council on October 25, telling Sudanese General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan he had his full support, which is why in both style and substance, “Burhan may end up copying Sisi’s playbook to crush democracy.”
“The coup represents a cynical power grab by a cadre of military officers desperate to preserve the army’s economic privileges,” observes Dr. Willow Berridge, a historian of modern Sudan and author of “Civil Uprisings in Modern Sudan: The Khartoum Springs of 1964 and 1985.”
“The coup represents a cynical power grab by a cadre of military officers desperate to preserve the army’s economic privileges.”
The coup has not only left the capital Khartoum soaked in the blood of protesters, journalists, and human rights activists, but has also filled the city’s prisons with hundreds of political prisoners.
“The military is promising to build a democratic, civilian state while stepping over the bodies of dead innocent people,” said Dr. Sara Abdelgalil, spokeswoman for the Sudanese Professionals Association, a pro-democracy coalition of trade unions, in a recent interview. “We cannot allow this military takeover to become a successful story.”
The Biden administration has responded by announcing a freeze on the $700 million the US government provides to Sudan each year, at least until the Sudanese military releases civilian leaders and restores the transitional government, while also urging it to refrain from further violence against protesters.
In response, on November 21, Burhan reinstated Abdalla Hamdok as interim Prime Minister in an as yet unknown power-sharing arrangement controlled by the military. Quoting Jonas Horner, a regional analyst with the International Crisis Group, The NY Times said that the new agreement is likely to “weaken the standing of Sudan’s civilian cabinet significantly as the country moves toward an election.” Horner added. “Hamdok was a bit of a political hero until a few hours ago,” he said. “Now people will turn on him.”
While Biden deserves mild applause for halting US aid to Sudan, he must go further, particularly if he wants his actions to be matched against his promises at the next election. He can take a significant step forward here by halting aid to Egypt, too, as argued by New York Times columnist Peter Beinart.
“A US president who wants to fortify both America’s domestic infrastructure and its global reputation can find better uses for $1.3 billion than giving it to a murderous tyrant intent on cloning himself across the Middle East,” remarks Beinart. “Sisi, along with his patrons in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is determined to keep the Middle East as undemocratic as possible, lest his own brutalized subjects get the wrong idea.”
“Sisi, along with his patrons in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, is determined to keep the Middle East as undemocratic as possible.”
This is a regime that Amnesty International accused of harassing and intimidating rights advocates to silence them, “using a well-honed pattern of unlawful summons, and coercive questioning,” amounting to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”
“Egypt’s National Security Agency questions and threats reveal one clear objective: to stifle human rights and political activism,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa region.
Sisi’s regime also exports terror and tyranny, having lent its support to the recent coup plotters in Tunisia and the Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar, in his effort to overthrow the internationally recognized government in Tripoli, exacerbating and prolonging the nearly decade-long conflict, with his self-styled Libyan National Army, comprising some of Africa’s most violent militias, credibly accused of committing “heinous” war crimes.
For these reasons, President Biden must accomplish what he promised to do on the campaign trail and hold the blood-soaked Egyptian dictator to account by halting US military aid, which in recent years has been used increasingly on pro-democracy and anti-dictator protesters, rather than against ISIS. In actuality, our aid has fermented support for the very thing said military assistance is meant to defeat – violent insurgent groups.
“Sisi has presided over an unprecedented level of political repression that’s fueling radicalization amongst Egyptian youth,” noted former Obama administration National Security Council staffer Andrew Miller. “Several prominent former Egyptian prisoners have reported that ISIS is finding new recruits among those jailed with hardened militants in overcrowded prisons.”
If Biden means what he says — that his commitment to “core values,” such as democracy and human rights is unshakable – then he cannot continue to arm an authoritarian regime that is responsible for grotesque human rights violations at home and the undermining of democratic governments and movements abroad.