Egypt-US relations: Security first

Gamal Essam El-Din , Saturday 23 Sep 2023

The Egyptian and US armies have concluded a successful Bright Star 2023 exercise.

Bright Star 2023
Bright Star 2023


The joint Egypt-US military exercise Bright Star 2023 concluded at the Mohamed Naguib Military Base on 14 September with the participation of 8,400 troops from 19 countries.

The military exercise, which began on 2 September, included observers from 15 other countries in addition to the participation of civil police and a number of legal experts from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Among the countries that participated in the exercise that took place on Egypt’s North Coast and other naval and air bases across the country were Saudi Arabia, Greece, the UAE, Oman, Jordan, the UK, Greece, Cyprus, Pakistan, and India.

In a speech at the concluding ceremony, Minister of Defence General Mohamed Zaki said the exercise was a great opportunity for the armies of both Egypt and the US, alongside other countries, to exchange expertise and benefit from modern fighting techniques in a way that would strengthen military cooperation between the two countries.

“It helps to reinforce stability and security in the region,” Zaki said.

Lieutenant-General Osama Askar, Egypt’s chief of staff, said Bright Star was one of the most advanced military exercises in the region. He said it helped participating forces to learn new tactics and to improve their ability to work together.

Lieutenant-General Michael Erik Kurilla, chief of the US Central Command (Centcom), said the exercise was established initially to build the strategic security relationship between Egypt and the US, and it has expanded to its current scope and plays a leading role in regional security.  

“Approximately 8,400 troops with over 140 aircraft, 17 naval vessels, and 250 vehicles from across the globe gathered at five training locations in Egypt to participate in the largest and oldest Middle Eastern exercise,” Kurilla said.

He noted that “since 1980, Bright Star has been an example of America’s enduring commitment to regional security and increasing interoperability with Egypt and other partners, and that bringing this number of many nations, people, equipment, and experiences is also a testament to Egypt’s leadership in the region.”

Brigadier-General Matthew Reed, the US exercise director, said that Bright Star was an important opportunity for the US and Egypt to strengthen their military cooperation and promote regional security and stability.

“The structure of Bright Star’s 2023 exercise was designed around strengthening multilateral interoperability and addressing challenges across air, land, sea, and cyber domains and consisted of field training exercises, combined-arms exercises, live-fire exercises, command post exercises, and a senior leader seminar to further facilitate information-sharing between tactical and strategic levels,” Reed said.

 “The Bright Star exercise built upon the strategic security relationship shared between Egypt and the US, which serves a leading role in regional security efforts, as well as combating the spread of extremism.”

But while the military relationship and cooperation between Egypt and the US was at its height during the exercise Bright Star 2023, news came from Washington that the White House had decided to withhold $85 million in military assistance to Egypt.

According to a Reuters report on 14 September, the administration of US President Joe Biden has approved $235 million in military aid for Egypt that it had withheld for the past two years because of what it called the country’s “poor and dismal” human rights record.

The decision, according to the report, means that the US will withhold just a small fraction — $85 million — of the $1.3 billion in military aid earmarked annually for Egypt. That amounts to about a 6.5 per cent cut in military aid to Egypt for the coming fiscal year. The remaining $980 million in annual US military aid is not subject to human rights conditions.

The US media said the move reflects a decision by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other officials in the administration that the US relationship with the most populous country in the region is too important to risk.

A report in The New York Times on 14 September cited a senior State Department official as saying that Egypt’s contributions to US national security were great.

“For example, there was a joint US-Egyptian military exercise, Bright Star 2023, which was conducted over the past two weeks, and the US military described it as focused on counterterrorism, regional security, and efforts to combat the spread of violent extremism,” the report said.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and Blinken discussed relations between the two countries in a telephone call on 14 September. According to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, Blinken expressed his country’s appreciation for Egypt’s important role in promoting peace, security, and stability in the Middle East and Africa.

Both sides reaffirmed the importance of the strategic economic and political ties between the two countries, he said.

The State Department’s readout on the call between Blinken and Shoukri did not mention anything about a cut in US military assistance to Egypt.

A senior State Department official who briefed reporters on the decision said “Egypt’s voice is a crucial one on so many issues across the region that we are trying to work together in the spirit of regional peace and security.”

The US media claimed that the law allows a further $235 million to be withheld from the US allocation to Egypt, as that portion is also conditional on Egypt’s meeting democracy and human rights requirements. However, Blinken used his right to waive these conditions.

US rights groups such as Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy claim that torture and forced disappearances and the jailing of political activists are widespread in Egypt.

Tarek Radwan, head of the US House of Representatives’ Human Rights Committee, denies there are political prisoners in Egypt or that torture and forced disappearances are widespread in the country.

“Torture and forced disappearance allegations are mainly used by the Muslim Brotherhood to tarnish the image of the regime of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and these allegations are regrettably repeated by the America media,” Radwan said.

He said that “between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners have been released from jail since April 2022, and none of these has ever mentioned that he/she was subjected to torture.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 21 September, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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