US prepares $691 million military sale to Egypt after Sinai attacks

Biden froze military assistance to Cairo in January. However, recent attacks claimed by Daesh have prompted a shift in Washington's foreign policy
REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY  -   Un miembro de las fuerzas especiales de la Policía hace guardia en El Cairo, Egipto

REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY  -   Washington is preparing a million-dollar arms shipment to Egypt shortly after new attacks in Sinai.

The United States is preparing a military sale to Egypt valued at $691 million, the State Department announced in a statement. According to Washington, Cairo requested the purchase of more than 5,000 TOW anti-tank missiles, missile support equipment, spare parts, tools, test equipment, as well as logistical technical support.

As the communiqué notes, this arms package will strengthen US foreign policy and national security by "helping to enhance the security of an important non-NATO ally that remains an important strategic partner in the Middle East". Washington and Cairo have important political, economic and commercial ties. Egypt is the largest US export market in Africa. US companies are active in Egypt in a variety of areas, including energy, technology, telecommunications, construction and hospitality.  

PHOTO/REUTERS  -   El presidente de Egipto, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
PHOTO/REUTERS - Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

The two countries have also developed significant cooperation in security, intelligence and defence. "If you want me to define the US-Egypt relationship, I would say it is a strategic relationship," Motaz Zahran, Egypt's ambassador to Washington, told Al-Monitor.

For Washington, Egypt is a key ally in the region in the fight against Daesh, an issue that has always been central to different US administrations. With the aim of combating the terrorist group, former president Barack Obama restored military aid to Cairo in 2015, assistance that he suspended two years earlier due to the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi, linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.  

REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENIN - El ministro de Defensa egipcio Mohamed Ahmed Zaki
REUTERS/EVGENIA NOVOZHENIN - Egypt's defence minister, Mohamed Ahmed Zaki

Under Donald Trump, that aid was maintained and relations were strengthened. The former US president called his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi "a great president", saying he was "doing a great job" and had managed to "establish authority and security". "He has brought order. Before he was here, there was very little order. There was chaos," Trump said during a meeting with Al-Sisi in 2019, according to Al-Monitor.

However, these good relations were tarnished shortly before Trump left office due to the Al-Sisi government's purchase of Russian fighter jets. The Republican leader accused Cairo of purchasing Russian weapons with US aid money. As a result, before leaving the White House, he cut military aid to Cairo. 

REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE - El presidente de Estados Unidos, Donald Trump, se reúne con el presidente de Egipto, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, en la Casa Blanca en Washington, Estados Unidos, el 9 de abril de 2019
REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE - Egypt's purchase of Russian jets has roiled relations between Donald Trump and Al-Sisi

The current president, Joe Biden, following in his predecessor's footsteps, also chose to cut $130 million in military aid to Egypt, although the reasons were different. The US administration cited human rights concerns in the country, though this decision may also be a response to heavy pressure from Democratic lawmakers, as in January Biden announced a $2.2 billion sale of C-130 Super Hercules aircraft and several Democrats and one Republican tried to block the shipment in the Senate.

The stance of some US presidents, particularly Democrats such as Obama and Biden, has led Egypt to diversify its arms imports. Despite the US being a major supplier, Cairo has increased arms trade with other countries such as Russia, France, Germany and Italy, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). 

REUTERS/TOM BRENNER  -   El presidente de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden
REUTERS/TOM BRENNER - Joe Biden froze $130 million in military aid to Egypt in January
Daesh attacks in Sinai change Washington's stance  

However, recent events in Sinai have led to a change in Biden's position. In early May, the Egyptian peninsula suffered a series of attacks claimed by Daesh that killed dozens of Egyptian military personnel. One of them, which killed 11 soldiers, has been considered one of the deadliest attacks in recent years.  

PHOTO/MAHMOUD ADDO - Soldados del Ejército marchan junto a un camión de bomberos que transporta el cuerpo del oficial del ejército egipcio Abdelhamid Sobhi durante su funeral. Fue asesinado por Daesh en el Sinaí
PHOTO/MAHMOUD ADDO - Army soldiers march past a fire truck carrying the body of Egyptian army officer Abdelhamid Sobhi during his funeral. He was killed by Daesh in the Sinai.

Sinai is one of the most terrorist-active regions in the region. Since the overthrow of Morsi in 2013, jihadist attacks have increased in the peninsula, posing a major security challenge to the Egyptian government. Al-Sisi has therefore launched several anti-terrorist operations in the area, most notably a mission carried out in February 2018 against extremist cells that had pledged allegiance to Daesh. According to official figures, more than 1,000 jihadists have been killed. Compared to the latest attacks in May, the Egyptian army reportedly eliminated 23 jihadists in the Sinai.  

PHOTO/AP  -   Camiones del Ejército de Egipto llevan tanques en un convoy militar
PHOTO/AP - In recent years, Egypt's army has tightened security in Sinai.

The increase in terrorist activity in the peninsula has led al-Sisi to call for a greater military partnership with the United States, an important ally in this area. Accordingly, on 10 May, days after the attacks, the Egyptian president expressed his hopes for closer counterterrorism ties with Washington during a meeting with US Army General Michael Kurilla, according to Reuters.  

​   REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY - Un miembro de las fuerzas policiales especiales de Egipto vigila el sitio del Monasterio Blanco Ortodoxo Copto en Sohag, Egipto, el 6 de abril de 2019
REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY - A member of Egypt's special police forces guards the Coptic Orthodox White Monastery in Sohag.

The Biden administration has responded positively to the million-dollar arms shipment, which "will enhance Egypt's ability to improve the defence of its territory," the US statement said. "The missiles will be used to combat terrorism, secure borders against armoured threats and fortified sites," it adds. 

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.