Geopolitics

Egypt Eyes U.S. Foreign Policy Changes After Midterms

Gen Mattis and Gen Sisi last year in Washington
Gen Mattis and Gen Sisi last year in Washington
Sharif Abdel Kouddous

CAIRO — The Democratic Party chalked up victories across the United States in the midterm elections on November 6, gaining control of the House of Representatives for the first time in eight years. And even if the Republicans still hold control of the Senate, the outcome of the midterms breaks up the Republican monopoly in Washington and has dealt a blow to President Donald Trump midway through his first term in office.

But what are the ramifications on US foreign policy? And, more specifically, what do the midterm election results mean for Egypt?

On the one hand, Egypt is rarely the subject of discussion on Capitol Hill anymore, and there is a general resignation and acceptance of the status quo. On the other, the country's retreat from its historical leadership role in the region, combined with a renewed critical focus on its Gulf patrons, like Saudi Arabia, and an increasing skepticism in Washington of Egypt's value as a partner, particularly from Democrats, may translate into greater scrutiny.

For decades, Egypt has enjoyed strong bipartisan support in Washington, a relationship anchored in the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Egypt's position as a strategic Middle East partner for the US has consistently trumped any concerns about democracy or human rights, and both the White House and Congress have continued to back Egypt regardless of which party is in control.

The bulk of US funding to Egypt comes in the form of an annual $1.3 billion military assistance package. While this aid has stayed relatively constant in dollar terms, it has become increasingly conditioned.

Since 2012, Congress has passed appropriations legislation that withholds military aid unless the Secretary of State certifies the country is taking various steps to support democracy and human rights. Even though the State Department's own assessments of Egypt have acknowledged widespread abuses such as unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention, successive Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State have regularly issued national security waivers to override these concerns and continue the funding.

Trump is basically for Sisi at every turn.

Over the past several years, there have been some fluctuations. In 2013, President Obama suspended the supply of some military equipment in the wake of the Rabaa massacre, before restoring it again less than two years later. President Trump froze some funding in 2017, citing human rights issues and Egypt's relationship with North Korea, only to lift most restrictions earlier this year. Egypt remains the second largest recipient of military assistance from the United States after Israel.

Although military aid has continued to flow into the country, economic funding to Egypt has been cut drastically. Over the past two decades, economic aid to Egypt has been reduced by over 90%, from $833 million in 1998 to a request of just $75 million for 2019, the lowest amount since the late 1970s.

"There's been a long-term trend of diminishing congressional support for the US relationship with Egypt," says Michelle Dunne, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Department official who closely follows Egypt. "These midterm elections will reinforce that trend."

With control of one of the chambers of Congress, Democrats are looking to push back against a range of President Trump's domestic and foreign policies, including his stance on the Middle East.

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in his own consulate last month has thrust Trump's cosy relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman into the spotlight, as well as US involvement in the disastrous war in Yemen.

While Egypt has largely fallen off the radar in Washington, a more critical focus on America's Gulf allies — Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — particularly by Democrats, may color perceptions of Egypt.

"Egypt couldn't be in the news less than it already is," says Joshua Stacher, an associate professor of political science at Kent State University and the author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt and Syria (2012). "But there's starting to be a bundle of policies that are being discredited because of Trump's embrace of them and Egypt's definitely in there. Trump is basically for Sisi at every turn."

US military aid to Egypt accounts for nearly a quarter of all US military assistance worldwide.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been Sisi's strongest defenders behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, and their once-influential private lobbying efforts may now carry less weight. "The Saudis and Emiratis have been privately going to members of Congress and members of the administration, trying to persuade them not to put pressure on Sisi. If these people and their approach is called into question, they might not be as effective," Dunne says.

While analysts agree that Egypt is not a hot-button issue anymore, US military aid to Egypt accounts for nearly a quarter of all US military assistance worldwide, rendering it an important funding consideration nevertheless.

In recent years, there has been more criticism of Egypt in the Senate than in the House. Democrats like Patrick Leahy and Chris Murphy and Republicans such as Lindsey Graham and the late John McCain have all been critical of President Sisi. Yet with the Republicans retaining control of the Senate, there will likely be little change toward Egypt in the upper chamber.

"In the Senate, it will more or less be the status quo," Miller says. "Some will continue being skeptical of Egypt's value as a partner, but we'll see no dramatic change."

It's in the House where a lot of fresh faces are coming in and many old ones are heading out.

One of the Republican incumbents that lost his seat to a Democratic challenger, California representative Dana Rohrabacher, happened to be President Sisi's biggest cheerleader in Congress. Rohrabacher has described Sisi as "a defender of the good things we believe in." In 2014, he formed the Egypt Caucus to further relations between the United States and Egypt. He has also met with Sisi several times, including traveling to Cairo in February 2017 to bolster ties between the two countries following President Trump's inauguration.

Several newly elected Democrats entering Capitol Hill armed with years of experience in national security and diplomacy are looking to challenge President Trump on foreign policy. Chief among them is Tom Malinowski, who defeated a five-term Republican incumbent in the race for New Jersey's 7th Congressional District.

Malinowski was the Washington director of Human Rights Watch from 2001 to 2013, where he was a leading advocate for ending the US use of torture and black sites. He joined the Obama administration in 2013 as the assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. Last year, he delivered a scathing assessment of President Sisi in his testimony before a Senate subcommittee hearing on US aid to Egypt.

"In the House, you will have a number of new Democrats who are experienced in foreign policy, including myself, who are not likely to accept the argument that a dictator is necessary for stability," Malinowski says. "I would characterize President Sisi's policies as disastrous from the standpoint of human rights and America's national security. Egypt has done absolutely nothing for the United States that justifies the provision of billions of dollars of military aid."

The Congressmember-elect tells Mada Masr he plans to be a vocal advocate for human rights on Capitol Hill and says he believes there will be greater scrutiny of Washington's relationship with Cairo in the House of Representatives.

"I make no promises, but I do believe that there is likely to be greater skepticism, in part because you have a few more people entering the Congress who care about human rights and because the Egyptian government has failed to demonstrate what benefit the United States gets from this relationship," he says. "I would also expect a much more critical focus on the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states and that may have some implications for how Egypt is viewed."

For Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, radical changes in Washington's policy on Egypt are unlikely because of longstanding fears of instability. "But what I think is that it's definitely a more negative context and environment for Sisi in Washington."

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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