Egypt–United States relations

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Egyptian - American relations
Map indicating locations of Egypt and United States


United States

Egypt–United States relations refers to the current and historical relationship between Egypt and the United States.

The U.S. had minimal dealings with Egypt when it was controlled by the Ottoman Empire (before 1882) and Britain (1882–1945).

President Gamal Abdel-Nasser (1952–70) antagonized the U.S. by his pro-Soviet policies and anti-Israeli rhetoric, but the U.S. helped keep him in power by forcing Britain and France to immediately end their invasion in 1956. American policy has been to provide strong support to presidents who supported solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict, especially presidents Anwar Sadat (1970–81) and Hosni Mubarak (1981–2011). Support for Mubarak ended during the "Arab Spring" of 2011, shortly prior to his overthrow.


In 1956, the U.S. was alarmed at the closer ties between Egypt and the Soviet Union, and prepared the OMEGA Memorandum as a stick to reduce the regional power of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. When Egypt recognized Communist China, the U.S. ended talks about funding the Aswan Dam, a high prestige project much desired by Egypt. The dam was later built by the Soviet Union. When Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, the Suez Crisis erupted with Britain and France threatening war to retake control of the canal and depose Nasser. Israel did invade the Suez in October 1956, and Britain and France (in league with Israel) sent in troops to seize the canal. Using heavy diplomatic and economic pressure, the Eisenhower administration forced Britain and France to withdraw soon, leading to a warming of relations between the U.S. and Egypt.


Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with US President Jimmy Carter outside the White house in 1977.

After the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, Egyptian foreign policy began to shift as a result of the change in Egypt's leadership from the fiery Nasser to the much more moderate Anwar Sadat and the emerging peace process between Egypt and Israel. Sadat realized that reaching a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict is a precondition for Egyptian development. To achieve this goal, Sadat ventured to enhance U.S.-Egyptian relations to foster a peace process with Israel. After a seven-year hiatus, both countries reestablished normal diplomatic relations on February 28, 1974. In moving toward the U.S. in foreign policy, Sadat worked with President Richard Nixon to expel 20,000 Soviet technicians and soldiers and reopen the Suez Canal. Sadat opened negotiations with Israel, resulting most notably in the Camp David Accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter and made peace with Israel in a historic peace treaty in 1979.1 Sadat's domestic policy, called 'Infitah,' was aimed at modernizing the economy and removing Nasser's heavy-handed controls. Sadat realized American aid was essential to that goal, and it allowed him to disengage from the Israeli conflict, and to pursue a regional peace policy.2

Military cooperation

Following the peace treaty with Israel, between 1979 and 2003, the U.S. has provided Egypt with about $19 billion in military aid, making Egypt the second largest non-NATO recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel. Also, Egypt received about $30 billion in economic aid within the same time frame. In 2009, the U.S. provided a military assistance of US$ 1.3 billion (inflation adjusted US$ 1.43 billion in 2014), and an economic assistance of US$ 250 million (inflation adjusted US$ 274.8 million in 2014).3 In 1989 both Egypt and Israel became a Major non-NATO ally of the United States.

Military cooperation between the U.S. and Egypt is probably the strongest aspect of their strategic partnership. General Anthony Zinni, the former Commandant of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), once said, "Egypt is the most important country in my area of responsibility because of the access it gives me to the region." Egypt was also described during the Clinton Administration as the most prominent player in the Arab world and a key U.S. ally in the Middle East. U.S. military assistance to Egypt was considered part of the administration's strategy to maintaining continued availability of Persian Gulf energy resources and to secure the Suez Canal, which serves both as an important international oil route and as critical route for U.S. warships transiting between the Mediterranean and either the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf.

The Egyptian military provides indirect support for the foreign policy of Egypt in the region. Egypt is the strongest military power on the African continent, and according to Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies' annual Middle East Strategic Balance, the second largest in the Middle East, after Israel.


Despite differences and periods of friction in relations between the two countries, the U.S.-Egyptian relations under Mubarak had evolved, moving beyond the Middle East peace process towards an independent bilateral friendship. It was in the U.S. interest that Egypt was able to present moderate voice in Arab councils and persuade other Arab states to join the peace process and to normalize their relations with the U.S.

However lately Egyptian-American relations have become a little tense. This is due to a great extent to the Egyptian unwillingness to send troops to Afghanistan and Iraq in peace stabilization missions. Egypt strongly backed the U.S. in its war against international terrorism after the September 11th attacks of 2001, but refused to send troops to Afghanistan during the war and after it. Egypt also opposed U.S. military intervention of March 2003 in Iraq, continued to oppose U.S. occupation of the country after the war and further refused to comply with U.S. requests to send troops to the country even under a UN umbrella.

The issue of participation in the post-war construction efforts in Iraq has been controversial in Egypt and in the Arab world as a whole. Opponents say that the war was illegal and it is necessary to wait until Iraq has legal representative government to deal with it. On the other hand supporters of participation argued that the responsibility to protect Iraqis and to help them in time of crisis should prevail and guide the Egyptian action in Iraq, despite the fact that the Iraqis do not agree.

As of 2011, US officials quoted in USA Today described Egyptian security and military as having shared "valuable intelligence" and providing other "useful counterterrorism assistance", in the 1980, 90s and "particularly in the decade since the 9/11 attacks". Under President Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, the U.S. has had "an important partnership" in counterterrorism.4

When the US made cuts in military aid to Egypt following the 2013 military coup and crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood movement, it continued funding for counter-terrorism, border security and security operations in the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, considered very important to Israel's security.5

2011 Egyptian revolution and aftermath

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution top US government officials urged Husni Mubarak and his government to reforms, to refrain from using violence and to respect the rights of protesters such the right to peaceful assembly and association. Ties between the two countries became strained after Egyptian soldiers and police raided 17 offices of local and foreign NGOs - including the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Freedom House and the German Konrad-Adenauer Foundation on December 29, 2011 because of allegations of illegal funding from abroad.6 The United States condemned the raids as an attack on democratic values7 and threatened to stop the $1.3bn in military aid and about $250m in economic aid Washington gives Egypt every year,8 but this threat was dismissed by the Egyptian government.8 43 NGO members9 including Sam LaHood, son of US Transport Secretary Ray LaHood, and Nancy Okail, then resident director of US-based NGO Freedom House's operations in Egypt, were charged with obtaining international funds illegally and failing to register with the Egyptian government.10 After an appeal by those charged, the case had been switched from a criminal court to one handling misdemeanours, where the maximum penalty was a fine and not imprisonment.11 After lifting a travel ban on 17 foreign NGO members,11 among them 9 Americans,1112 the United States and Egypt began to repair their relations.13 Nevertheless, on September 11, 2012, (the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks) Egyptian protesters stormed the US embassy in Cairo, tore down the American flag and replaced it with a flag with Islamic symbols,1415 reportedly in response to the release of an independent film critical of Islam, Innocence of Muslims.

As of 2013, popular sentiments of Egyptians towards the United States have soured thanks to the dissemination of conspiracy theories about the United States, which claim that the U.S. assisted the now-unpopular Muslim Brotherhood in attaining power. As of 2013, these beliefs are now a prevalent assumption in much of Egyptian political discourse. 16171819


  1. ^ Adfi Safty, "Sadat's Negotiations with the United States and Israel: From Sinai to Camp David," American Journal of Economics & Sociology, July 1991, 50#3 pp 285-298
  2. ^ Mannin G. Weinbaum, "Egypt's 'Infitah' and the Politics of US Economic Assistance," Middle Eastern Studies, March 1985, Vol. 21 Issue 2, pp 206-222
  3. ^ "Scenesetter: President Mubarak's visit to Washington". U.S. Department of State. 2009-05-19. 
  4. ^ Hall, Mimi; Richard Wolf (02/04/2011). "Transition could weaken U.S. anti-terror efforts". USA Today. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  5. ^ Bengali, Shashank; Laura King (October 9, 2013). "U.S. to partially cut aid to Egypt". L A Times. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  6. ^ "Egypt unrest: NGO offices raided in Cairo". BBC. 29 December 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  7. ^ "US says Egypt agrees to stop raids on democracy groups". BBC. 30 December 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  8. ^ a b "Egypt PM dismisses US aid threat over activists' trial". BBC. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  9. ^ "US senators warn Egypt of 'disastrous' rupture in ties". BBC. 8 February 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  10. ^ "Egypt judges in NGO funding trial resign". BBC. 29 February. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  11. ^ a b c "Foreign NGO workers reach Cyprus after leaving Egypt". BBC. 2 March 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  12. ^ "Egypt 'lifts' travel ban on US NGO worker". BBC. 1 March 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "US and Egypt seek to repair relationship after NGO row". BBC. 7 March 2012. Retrieved 13 April 2012. 
  14. ^ Brian Walker; Paul Cruickshank; Tracy Doueiry (11 September 2012). "Protesters storm U.S. Embassy in Cairo". CNN. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  15. ^ "Cairo protesters scale U.S. Embassy wall, remove flag". USA Today. 11 September 2012. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
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  19. ^,-groups-protest-Clin.aspx

External links

Further reading

  • Borzutzky, Silvia and David Berger. "Dammed If You Do, Dammed If You Don't: The Eisenhower Administration and the Aswan Dam," Middle East Journal, Winter 2010, 64#1 pp 84–102
  • Cohen, Stephen P. Beyond America's grasp: a century of failed diplomacy in the Middle East (2009)
  • Gardner, Lloyd C. The Road to Tahrir Square: Egypt and the United States from the Rise of Nasser to the Fall of Mubarak (2011)
  • Oren, Michael B. Power, faith, and fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the present (2008)
  • O'Sullivan, Christopher D. FDR and the End of Empire: The Origins of American Power in the Middle East (2012)

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