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Rethinking US-Egyptian Bilateral Relations: A Rights-Based Approach

[Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau, hosts Maj. Gen. Mohamed Elkeshky, Egyptian defense, military, naval and air attache to the United States, for an office call at the Pentagon on 4 March 2013. Image and description originally posted to Flickr by Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill] [Air Force Lt. Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Vice Chief of the National Guard Bureau, hosts Maj. Gen. Mohamed Elkeshky, Egyptian defense, military, naval and air attache to the United States, for an office call at the Pentagon on 4 March 2013. Image and description originally posted to Flickr by Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Jim Greenhill]

Debates in recent months over the continuation of US aid to the Egyptian military, in light of the deteriorating human rights situation, miss the forest for the trees. This includes the announcement that the US government plans to reduce its military aid to Egypt in response to the harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that followed the 30 June popular mobilization. The narrow focus on recent events precludes a more comprehensive understanding of the US’ structural embroilment in Egyptian politics, requiring a substantive rather than merely a “symbolic” response.

Recent statements by international human rights groups such as Amnesty International, pointing to US complicity in Egyptian state violence and demands for greater accountability to human rights considerations in the provision of US aid to Egypt, are certainly welcome. However, such assessments can be myopic at the expense of a longue durée and more broadly contextualized analysis of the relationship between US aid and Egyptian state violence. With the US-backed military at the fore of Egypt’s political scene and deposed president Hosni Mubarak temporarily released from prison where he was being held on corruption and murder charges, US military aid appears to be directly implicated in stunting Egypt’s revolutionary momentum.

The period following the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July has featured further entrenchment of authoritarian practices reminiscent of Mubarak’s rule. This has included the reinstatement of “emergency law,” military tribunals, and the appointment of generals as governors across the provinces. The new power also moved to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood and ban its activities, all under the national security state pretext of “fighting terrorism.” In recent months, at least 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed while protesting first the ouster of their leader and later the government crackdown and military rule.

Evidence collected by Amnesty International indicates that some Muslim Brotherhood protesters were armed, and that several individuals from a rival political camp were tortured to death. Nevertheless, Amnesty condemned the Egyptian state security forces for employing “disproportionate” and indiscriminate force against the protesters “in a blatant disregard for human life.” Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members have also been detained, with much of the Brotherhood’s senior leadership now behind bars, including the former president who has been charged with various capital crimes including incitement to murder. More interested in maintaining power than meaningful democratic transition, the Morsi government failed in its short time in office to significantly challenge the “national security state” paradigm. Rather than opting for root and branch reform, the Morsi government tried to coopt the institutions and mechanisms with which the paradigm is associated. National security state institutions, discourses, and practices were legitimized in the context of the US-led “war on terror,” and continue to resonate with regional and global political and “security” imperatives.

In many ways, the Muslim Brotherhood are now paying the greatest price for this failure, as the “terrorist threat” discourse has reemerged as a justification for repressive and anti-democratic practices under the banner of “bring[ing] back law and order.”  The Muslim Brotherhood appears once again to be the greatest victim of Egypt’s state violence. However, the brief, although symbolic, detention of labor lawyer and prominent leftist activist HaithamMohamadeen, along with other secular liberal and leftist activists, is a sign of just how slippery the national security pretext slope is. As Mohamadeen has noted, “Today, Brotherhood members are being locked up arbitrarily; sooner or later, that will spread to other political forces.”

Despite the repackaging and new iterations, the reality is that state violence—both structural and political—has been a staple feature of Egypt’s neoliberal governance. This has been the case under both Mubarak and Morsi, and now under the military-controlled government. In its complicity, the United States has contributed to the structural obstacles Egyptians face in achieving the aims of the revolution, including meaningful institutional reform, as well as economic, social, and transitional justice.

In the aftermath of the January 25 revolutionary mobilization, the United States was one of several international actors focused on channeling people power into routine electoral and institutional processes. These would assure a smooth “democratic” transition, in which restoration of “order” and “stability” are deemed key. In the rush to institutionalize and de-radicalize the revolutionary moment, various iterations of a post-Mubarak government, together with status quo international actors, have attempted to paper over some key contentious issues. These include discussions over the potential reconfiguration of state identity, notions of citizenship and what socio-economic justice and meaningful self-determination might look like in the context of domestic and international structural inequality.

Recent events, along with recognition of the extent to which various economic, political, and national security state interests are entrenched within both domestic and international power structures, have led many activists to question the form of democracy encouraged by this internationally sanctioned transitional process. Unhappy with the attempts by elites from across the political spectrum to usurp revolutionary legitimacy, many are now demanding a broadening of the space in which politics are conducted and contested.

These activists are questioning how the elite focused institutions and practices associated with Washington and Brussels’ prescribed forms of neoliberal democracy can adequately respond to new subjectivities and forms of popular mobilization that have emerged in Egypt. This is especially pertinent at a time when political structures and associated social and economic policies in the United States and Europe are themselves being contested by movements in part inspired by the Arab revolutions.

For Egyptian activist-scholar SamehNaguib, the 30 June experience, when millions took to the streets demanding political and social justice, demonstrated that democracy is about more than mere “ballot boxes”; it is a process that “involves decisions being taken on the streets, in the workplaces, [and] in mass gatherings.” However, Egyptian state violence, in its various forms, seems to be inhibiting not only the possibility of alternative democratic processes from emerging. It is also inhibiting even the ability of Egyptians to imagine what an alternative future beyond repressive neoliberal structures might look like.

In underwriting the tools of Egyptian state violence, whether advertently or inadvertently, US aid has consistently violated the country’s popular and state sovereignty. Some analysts have pointed out the decreased relevance of US aid on Egyptian politics in relation to the vast sums of money now being pledged by Persian Gulf states, in particular Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait. However, it is important to remember that these regimes are US allies whose future security and stability are also, to a large extent, dependent upon strong US military and diplomatic ties. Hence it is unlikely that their respective policies vis-à-vis Egypt would conflict with US red lines.

A broader examination of US-Egyptian bilateral relations reveals the complex and enduring ways in which US military and economic aid, geared towards securing US geostrategic and economic interests in the region, have come to play an important role in the suppression of the Egyptian popular will. Such an examination can also help explain the increasing levels of anti-American sentiment expressed by all sides of the Egyptian political spectrum.

US Complicity in Egypt’s Military Violence

Though the US government eventually proclaimed its support for the “people power” that resulted in the ouster of the repressive Hosni Mubarak regime on 25 January 2011, its past support for dictatorship in Egypt was no secret. It is a well-known fact that the Egyptian government has been the second largest recipient of US military aid after Israel ever since signing the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty in 1979.

The reasons for the prominent role of the military in political life are numerous and complex, linked to Egypt’s colonial past and state building, as well as the post-1948 reality of an aggressive and expansionist neighbor. In fact, ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ascent to power following the overthrow of Egypt’s British backed monarchy in 1952, and with the exception of the short period of time during which there was an elected civilian government, the country has been ruled by military men.

Yet despite the military’s strong presence during the Nasser years, subsequent domination of the executive, as well as overt interventions into the political sphere over the past two and a half years, the Egyptian military’s power has been exercised more through its economic than its political might. The Egyptian state has more often than not operated with a “civilian face,” with retired senior military officers concentrated in “upper bureaucratic positions and economic enterprises owned by the military.” 

Since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, confirming Egypt’s cold war reorientation away from the Soviets and toward the US sphere of influence, the country has been caught in an aid-loans-debt web. This has entailed the threat of loss of access to loans and aid from international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, as well as foreign governments, most importantly the United States. This has limited both state and popular sovereignty, and hence Egyptian elites’ ability to set domestic and foreign policies. For years, Egyptian activists have been demanding an end to this subordinate relationship and the domestic, regional, and international inequalities it perpetuates.

According to the 2012 US Congressional Report, the key geostrategic aims of the US-Egyptian bilateral relationship include:

[Maintaining] peace with Israel per the existing terms of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty.... Egypt’s cooperation in preventing terrorist groups in the Sinai Peninsula from destabilizing the region and in brokering talks between Palestinians and Israelis...[Egypt’s] continue[d] military and intelligence cooperation with the United States [to] facilitate transit through the Suez Canal for US warships…

Of equal importance, as pointed out by a recent New York Times article, is Egypt’s “near-automatic approval for military overflights,” facilitating past and future US military interventions in the region. This relationship is characterized by what the University of Texas academic Jason Brownlee has referred to as “binational hierarchy,” in which Egypt’s subordination “stems from political and economic asymmetries.” The most renowned feature of this bilateral relationship is US support for the Egyptian military. Between 1978 and 2011, the US provided Egypt with 71.6 billion dollars in bilateral foreign aid, including 1.3 billion dollars a year in military aid from 1987 to the present.

Though relatively limited in comparison to the billions being proffered to Egypt’s interim government by Persian Gulf states today, the provision of conditioned US military aid over the years has created a structural dependency. Vital parts and training for Egyptian weapons systems now rely upon access to the US military as well as linked private corporations. Reinforcing this dependency is US “re-export licensing requirements” that “would make it very difficult for third party nations, including U.S. allies, to sell similar weapons to Egypt without Washington’s approval. 

The geostrategic aims of US aid have often run counter to the regional solidarity aims of the Egyptian population vis-à-vis the Palestinian national struggle as well as in opposing other forms of external intervention in the region. Furthermore, militarization of the Sinai has severely damaged the well-being of its inhabitants who are prohibited from owning land and subject to the constant presence of repressive security apparatuses, conflict, and recently, forced eviction.

Given these circumstances, it is not surprising that, following Israel’s lead, the pro-Israel lobby is operating at full force to ensure that the Obama administration refrains from cutting military aid to Egypt. In particular, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was credited with helping to “kill an amendment in July”, which would have blocked Egyptian aid, as well as “operating behind the scenes in private meetings” to lobby lawmakers from both political parties “to keep alive Cairo’s funding.”

When considering US aid, often referred to as a “peace dividend” from Camp David, it is important to bear in mind the strategic calculations that went into its granting. The most significant of these strategic calculations is the desire to maintain Israel’s dominance and its “Qualitative Military Edge” vis-à-vis neighboring Arab states.  Often having no operational use beyond Egypt’s borders in the context of Camp David, it appears that the strategic function of a large part of the weapons purchased via US military aid has been to repress internal dissent, as well as to subsidize the US security-military-industrial complex. 

US Complicity in Egypt’s National Security State Violence

Another more obscure aspect of US intervention in Egypt has been its relationship to various security apparatuses linked to the Interior Ministry. During his reign, Mubarak created one of the region’s largest and most repressive state security and carceral apparatuses, comprising detention centers, “police stations, premises run by the State Security Investigations (SSI) services, and military camps.” Torture and other forms of ill-treatment were endemic within this system.  Egyptian-US bilateral relations deepened in the context of the “war on terror,” at a time when state violence and human rights violations increased.

Egypt has a consistent history of mistreating political prisoners. Repression by various police and intelligence services in the 1990s and 2000s shifted away from leftist and nationalist activists, and came to focus more acutely on members of the established Islamist opposition. Thousands, including many members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as of other proscribed organizations, were arrested and detained during these years on “terrorism” charges. They were often subject to torture, “arbitrary arrests and detention, and grossly unfair trials before emergency and military courts.”

The US worked particularly closely with Egyptian national security state apparatuses in the context of the “war on terror,” where Mubarak’s violent repression of the Islamist opposition gained “legitimacy” by aligning itself with post-9/11 US geostrategic interests in the region. Egypt provided security and intelligence cooperation as well as logistical support to the US “war on terror” efforts, often facilitating its evasion of accountability in the context of international law, most visibly in relation to the US’ “extraordinary rendition” program.

Throughout the 2000s, and particularly after they had a strong showing in the 2005 elections running as independents, there was a systematic crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members, with thousands imprisoned, and many tortured. As Hugh Roberts has noted in a recent article, Mubarak tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood so long as its work remained within the social realm - providing a vital service for the state since its post-liberalization retraction. In its provision of public goods, the movement relieved, for a limited time at least, actual or potential societal pressure on the state. However, once the Muslim Brotherhood came to be perceived as threatening Mubarak’s hegemony within the political sphere, the government response was relentless. Thousands of movement members were imprisoned, including, in a blow to its organizational capacity, much of its leadership

Though one would expect to see a decrease in state violence following Mubarak’s ouster, national security state human rights violations continued unabated. This is in part attributable to the legal-institutional and political context set in place by the US-backed Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Most importantly, this included the June 2012 decree which restored powers to the military, including al-dabtiyya al-qada'iyya–the power of the military to arrest civilians. A court order overturned the measure later that same month, though it was temporarily restored by the Morsi government in November 2012, and then again by the post-Morsi interim government in July 2013.

The SCAF’s June 2012 decree, issued only days before the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the legislative assembly, also provided jurisdiction to military courts for civilian arrests.  SCAF would soon refer 12,000 civilians to military courts, while engaging in systematic torture in prisons and detention facilities run by military police, including forcing detained female activists to undergo virginity tests. Morsi, elected one week after the decree, maintained SCAF’s power to send civilians to military courts.

Egyptian security forces under the rule of SCAF engaged in brutal attacks against demonstrators, employing physical beatings and the use of small arms - such as rubber bullets, birdshots, hand grenades, live ammunitions, and tear gas. The attacks on the 9 October Maspero protest, a demonstration by Copts at the state broadcasting centre, in which twenty-eight demonstrators were killed, several deliberately run over by army vehicles, and 212 injured, are a vivid illustration of the state violence that characterized SCAF’s rule.

Despite extensive evidence of the military's use of excessive of force against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in the post-revolution period, the United States continued to provide Egypt’s military with economic aid and weapons, helping to secure its political and economic interests and hence limit the potential for a meaningful democratic transition to succeed.

After the election of President Mohamed Morsi, the brutal suppression of political and social protest movements did not cease. According to an October 2012 report by the Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, there were 247 incidents of police brutality recorded during the first one hundred days of Morsi's presidency, with thirty-four people killed by the police in police stations, prisons, and in public areas. Incidents of state violence continued unabated throughout Morsi’s presidency. By June, one year into Morsi's presidency, the Nadim Centre reported 359 cases of torture, including 217 fatalities in custody.

Military trials of civilians continued under Morsi and were even given legal status under Article 198 of the newly drafted constitution. The first year of Morsi's rule saw thousands of activists prosecuted in these exceptional courts. The deposed Morsi government has also been accused of employing “exclusionary, often sectarian discourse” in which a climate of violence was tolerated and even fostered, a situation exacerbated by security apparatuses and undoubtedly beneficial to today’s military rule.

Morsi's year in power also saw an increased repression of labor activism, as well as numerous violations of freedom of expression. Additionally, far from challenging the international and regional structural imbalances upon which Egypt’s national security state are based, it is claimed that security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Egypt “thrived during Morsi’s presidency.” 

The Morsi government at least initially “endorsed rhetoric that called for a complete overhaul” of the institutions and apparatuses associated with political repression, in particular the Ministry of Interior. In the end, however, they “seemed more interested in reshaping” these institutions in order “to guarantee a cooperative relationship with its members and political allies.” Morsi adopted a similarly amenable approach to the military. Rather than demand root and branch reform, no matter the political risks, it took a gamble and allowed the military to safeguard its financial and political prerogatives. Instead of challenging the “deep state”, the Morsi government courted it. In the end, it was to pay the greatest price for such politically expedient decision-making.  

The violence of Egypt’s repressive security apparatuses has increased exponentially following the 30 June mass mobilization. The use of US purchased equipment in the state’s brutal crackdown on the Islamist opposition in the aftermath of the military’s political intervention prompted Amnesty International’s recent report: “Is US Aid Complicit in Egyptian Abuses?” The report details the use of US purchased equipment, including Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters that were used in surveillance of Cairo protest camps, armored Caterpillar D7R bulldozers that helped break up the protests, as well as small arms, light weapons, and tear gas used to “police” protests, which “facilitate[d] human rights violations.” 

In addition to their role in aggressively closing down the newly found public and political spaces that civil society activists have struggled to retain in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, these apparatuses have also maintained their role as regional “security” gatekeepers, curbing Egyptian regional solidarity aims. This is witnessed in particular vis-à-vis Palestine, where the Egyptian military has often used its might to reinforce the geostrategic balance of power in favor of Israeli “security” and in violation of the human rights and national aspirations of Palestinians. 

Furthermore, the frequent closing of border crossings as well as crackdown on cross-border smuggling tunnels between the Sinai and Gaza, which have served as a lifeline for Gazans suffering from the Israeli siege, seem to point in the direction of more continuity rather than change.

Though the US inarguably would have been more content to maintain the status quo bilateral relations consolidated under Mubarak, it has also proven flexible in working with whatever forces manage to capture state power, so long as they prove amenable to US “security” interests. So far, all power configurations that have succeeded Mubarak (SCAF, Morsi, military-controlled interim government) have, despite any rhetoric to the contrary, maintained US red lines vis-à-vis Camp David/ Israel, “securing” the Sinai and “war on terror” cooperation.

US Complicity in Egypt’s Structural Violence

Often overlooked in discussions of US complicity in Egyptian state violence is the structural violence that results from states failing to protect the social and economic rights of their citizens. Upon accepting his first IMF package in 1991, Mubarak implemented many of the structural adjustment policies associated with the neoliberal order. This resulted in increased levels of inequality, wealth concentration, a substantial weakening of the middle class, and concomitant expansion of the “precariate” class, comprised of temporary and low paid workers. These policies flouted several international economic rights conventions on unionization, child labor, migrant labor, and gendered wage discrimination.

The US has been complicit in Egypt’s structural violence both indirectly, through its backing of IMF and World Bank loans along with the conditions they impose, as well as directly, through conditions entailed by the various US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded programs. The latter provide an average of 815 million dollars per year in economic assistance to the Egyptian government in exchange for various economic “reforms” intended to increase “market freedom” in the country.

One of the key policy aims of these programs has been a shift in government spending priorities away from support for sustainable agriculture and towards a focus on agribusiness and hence export crops. This is intended to generate foreign currency to help pay off Egypt’s mounting debt, further locking it into the aid-loans-debt web. As a result of these policies, Egypt went from being the region’s “bread basket” to one of the world’s largest importers of wheat, further exacerbating the dire socio-economic situation that paved the way for the January 25 Revolution.

The economic situation was dismal before the presidential elections and worsened under Morsi, despite his claims of improvement. This was a major factor in the discontent behind the anti-Morsi movement. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a homogenous organization and is broader in its religious, social, and political thought than many people are aware. However, the emerging leadership of Morsi and his allies represented a patently pro-business trend in the party. As Reem Abou-El- Fadl has argued, “the Brotherhood came to power with exactly the same [neoliberal] economic vision as Mubarak had entrenched.”

Repressive policies vis-à-vis labor activism were also maintained under Morsi, with his administration as well as the Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament refusing to pass the progressive Trade Union Freedoms law, which would have fully legalized independent trade unions. Despite this, labor mobilization continued apace in 2012 and 2013. Whereas the total number of workers' collective actions in 2011 was 1,400, in 2012 it reached 1,969. There were 2,400 social and economic protests in the first quarter of 2013 in both private and public sectors.

Internal and external debt also increased under Morsi’s rule. Rather than attempting to address the domestic and international structural inequalities that flourished under Mubarak, Morsi continued to implement regressive fiscal and economic policies. As with the “deep state”, rather than challenge a paradigm attributed by many to the political and economic predicament, Morsi chose to appease status quo domestic and international power structures. 

This included plans to further privatize public goods as well as attempts to negotiate yet another multi-billion debt inducing IMF loan, which many Egyptian NGOs and activists opposed. Morsi also attempted, with the support of the State Department, to expand the Qualified Industrial Zones with Israel, prompting some Israelis to call Morsi a potential "economic opportunity for Israel." Taken together, these policies indicated willingness on Morsi’s part to toe the neoliberal line and maintain the terms of Egypt’s asymmetric bilateral relationship with the United States. 

It is clear that the current military-backed interim government is equally incapable of accommodating the radical political, social, and economic demands that workers and other activists have raised in the context of the Egyptian revolution. This is evidenced in debates over the Constitutional Declaration, which interim President Adly Mansour issued after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi. Under the Constitutional Declaration, Mansour has the right to make final decisions regarding the composition of the fifty-member committee appointed to draft the constitution, which will then be put to a public referendum within three months. Heading the committee is Amr Moussa, a Mubarak era minister of foreign affairs and liberal-leaning former presidential candidate. 

Many criticized the draft for both procedural as well as substantive reasons. Grievances in the former category include a critique of the committee tasked with amending the constitution for committing the same mistakes as the Morsi government, namely its failure to consult a broad range of actors adequately reflective of Egypt’s diverse political spectrum. Not only have Muslim Brotherhood members been excluded from the committee, but so have many members of what the political scientist Nathan Brown calls the “wide state,” including state administrators, independent civil society members, and human rights activists.

On the substantive level, the amended draft is seen to carry over from the previous text extensive privileges and oversight-free autonomy for entrenched interests linked to the “deep state.” The constitutional committee is tasked with reviewing proposed amendments from a ten-expert committee, which has recommended the removal of thirty-three articles and the amendment of a further 124, all of which indicate the future status of a state “with reduced responsibilities.”  This includes the removal of articles that commit the state to providing free mother and child care and eradicating illiteracy. It also includes the political isolation clause, which would ban leading figures of the Hosni Mubarak era National Democratic Party (NDP) from participation in politics for a decade.

Activists have pointed out the failure of the draft constitution to take into consideration broader socio-economic demands. The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights criticized the 8 July constitutional declaration for leaving out important social and economic rights. These include the “right to housing, health, medical treatment, food, drink, clothes, insurance, pensions, social security and the minimum and maximum wage.”  The Popular Socialist Alliance  has meanwhile accused the interim government of “sabotaging” the transitional period, citing “extralegal security measures, failures to manage the issue of social justice and failure to issue necessary laws of transitional justice,” while blaming the influence of the “old network of interests still controlling the country.”

Despite the attempts of the interim government to present a more labor friendly face, the historian of the Middle East Joel Beinin argues that “workers now face an emboldened authoritarian state that is openly hostile to their rights and aspirations.”

US Aid to Egypt: Violating the Rights of Egyptians

Through its provision of diplomatic, military, and economic support to a series of repressive governments, the US government has been complicit in both structural and physical state violence in Egypt. This violence has entailed the violation of a range of international and domestic laws as well as human rights and post-colonial justice norms.

In addition to the United Nations (UN) Charter itself, which enshrines the right to “equal sovereignty” for all states, there are several resolutions passed by the General Assembly meant to enshrine the right of states to determine their political status, without external interference, and to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development. These include UN General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, containing the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples; and Resolution 2625 (XXV) of 24 October 1970.

US military aid has also flouted the United States’ own laws regulating the sale of arms to rights’ violating militaries. For example, the US Arms Export Control Act, as well as the Leahy Law (22 USC §2378d(a)) which stipulates that no funding shall be furnished to foreign security forces if the United States has knowledge that those forces have committed  “a gross violation of human rights.” Yet despite these provisions, violence, political repression, and human rights violations committed by the Egyptian state have rarely figured into the frequency or quantity of US military aid provided to the Egyptian government. 

The principle of sovereign equality is understandably more closely guarded in those parts of the world where the brutality and injustice of colonialism are still raw memories. However, the most damaging impact of these violations is not on the rights of states, but on the rights and well-being of the people those states are meant to protect and promote.

The United States has been complicit in the violation of Egyptian popular sovereignty ever since it began providing aid and support to the Egyptian state on the basis of geostrategic interests fundamentally at odds with those of the Egyptian people. These violations have become even more apparent in recent years, in light of Egypt’s revolutionary momentum. In its support for Egypt’s repressive security apparatuses, US aid is now implicated in blocking what Barnard Professor Mona El-Ghobashy describes as “the basic challenge raised by the Egyptian revolution, the task of crafting a state that works for its people.”

In response to the latest round of state repression, the Obama administration announced its cancellation of scheduled joint US-Egyptian military maneuvers as well as plans to withhold a portion of its military aid along with a certain “big-ticket” items such as M1A1 tanks and Apache helicopters.. However,  the eight billion dollars pledged by Washington’s Persian Gulf allies should do more than make up for the budgetary gap produced by any suspension of US aid. Taken together with US promises to continue the flow of spare parts as well as equipment and training used for “counter-terrorism” activities and maintaining “security” in the Sinai, it appears the structural basis of Egyptian-US bilateral relations will remain intact.

Despite these obstacles, historic changes taking place today, on the regional, domestic, and international levels seem to bode well for a restructuring of the US-Egyptian bilateral relationship. Rather than focusing on power and entrenched interests, this transformed relationship could instead be based on the international principle of sovereign equality and the rights and popular sovereignty of the Egyptian people. Though elements of what could be described as the US’ own “deep state” appear resistant, ultimately, such substantive change would do more to help Egyptians realize the aims of their revolution than any other form of support proffered at the moment. It could also improve the United States’ image in Egypt and the broader region at a pivotal time.

As many activists have pointed out, the success of Egypt’s revolution ultimately hinges upon its ability to successfully transcend unequal power relations in which the US is deeply implicated. This point was made by the newly launched Gabhet Tareeq al-Thawra (“The Front of the Revolutionary Path”). The group called on the Egyptian government to secure the country’s “sovereignty” and “break the bonds of economic dependency and political subservience.”

The authors participated in a March 2012 National Lawyers Guild delegation to Egypt to investigate US complicity in Egyptian state violence both during the reign of Mubarak and in post-revolutionary Egypt. The authors would like to thank Francesca M. Pisano and Tye Tavaras for their research assistance on the US domestic and international legal obligations in rendering aid to regimes that engage in gross human rights violations.

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