WASHINGTON, DC — President Obama released U.S. military aid to Egypt that had been suspended since the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi was ousted from Egypt’s presidency in 2013, the White House announced.
The aid comes after Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab states announced an agreement to team up and form a joint military force to counter Iranian influence and Islamic extremism.
Furthermore, the release of aid comes after some Arab nations expressed concern about U.S.-led nuclear talks with Iran, questioning whether the Obama administration is betraying its commitments to their security by aligning itself with Tehran.
Long-standing relations between the U.S. and Egypt began to deteriorate after Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, then military chief, led the public movement to remove Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, from power.
Nevertheless, the U.S. continued to provide hundreds of millions in counterterrorism assistance to Egypt despite the overthrow of the Obama administration-backed government, reports The Associated Press (AP).
Mr. Sisi is now the president of Egypt.
The Obama administration maintained that military aid would be suspended until it certified that al-Sisi’s government had made progress on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law or issued a declaration that such aid was critical for U.S. national security, AP explains.
On March 31, the White House announced that Obama held a phone conversation with the Egyptian president amid turmoil in neighboring Libya, where the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has established a firm foothold, and Yemen, where Iran-backed Shiite rebels are fueling chaos.
“President Obama informed President al-Sisi that he will lift executive holds that have been in place since October 2013 on the delivery of F-16 aircraft, Harpoon missiles, and M1A1 tank kits,” the White House said in a statement. “The President also advised President al-Sisi that he will continue to request an annual $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt.”
The phone conversation came a few days after al-Sisi announced that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab League nations have agreed to form a joint military force to combat Iran-backed Shiite rebels in Yemen, known as Houthis, and other Islamic extremist threats.
According to the White House, Obama explained that the release of U.S. military will help better positions the U.S. and Egypt “to address the shared challenges…in an unstable region, consistent with the longstanding strategic partnership between our two countries.”
“President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” noted the statement. “He encouraged increased respect for freedom of speech and assembly and emphasized that these issues remain a focus for the United States. The two leaders agreed to stay in touch in the weeks and months ahead.”
The White House announcement indicates that Egypt will remain the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military aid in the world.
AP quoted Bernadette Meehan, a White House spokeswoman, saying the military assistance will help combat an ISIS affiliate that has waged attacks against soldiers and civilians in Egypt.
The Obama administration pointed out that it is not issuing a certification that Egypt has made progress toward democracy. Rather, the White House concluded that the aid is essential to U.S. national security.
“We will continue to engage with Egypt frankly and directly on its political trajectory and to raise human rights and political reform issues at the highest levels,” Meehan said.
Some American officials and military experts have suggested that Mr. Sisi should be considered a viable U.S. partner in combating ISIS and other Islamic extremists in neighboring Libya and the Middle East.
While the U.S. considers aid to Egypt essential for maintaining stability in the volatile Middle East, Egypt has been arguing that it needs the funds to fight growing threats from Islamic extremists in Libya and the Sinai Peninsula.
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