One Year On: Foreign Policy Under Sisi
One Year OnOver the course of the coming days, EgyptSource will publish a series of blog posts highlighting milestones marking Sisi’s first year in power. An in-depth look at the domestic politics, foreign policy, human rights, economic developments, legislation, and the media will give a comprehensive overview of the past year.
Since Morsi’s ouster, however, Egypt-Turkey relations have soured. Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan has been the most outspoken foreign leader critical of the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood president, and has condemned the international community for not taking a similar stance. Meanwhile, crticisms from the Gulf state of Qatar eased over the past year, with Saudi-led efforts to reconcile the two Arab countries. The death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has led some to believe that the rapprochement is over, and Qatar expressed its reservations of Egypt's role in airstrikes in Libya. Under Sisi, relations with Turkey, on the other hand, have only worsened, with Erdogan describing the Egyptian leader as tyrant. Under Sisi, Egypt also concluded a 5.2 million Euro deal with France to purchase twenty-four Rafale jets. French banks are financing at least half of the deal.
Following is a summary of key events in Egypt’s most important foreign policy relations with Egypt's allies:
Several months before the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and for the first time in over thirty years, the United States suspended military aid to Egypt. While the United States supplies $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt annually, in October 2013, the US suspended “the delivery of certain large-scale military systems and cash assistance to the government pending credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.”
In the year since Sisi’s election, the US announced it will resume military aid to Egypt, while Congress is discussing an appropriations bill which removes the need for the State Department to certify Egypt’s democratic progress.
Significant milestones in the wake of Morsi’s ouster and prior to Sisi’s election include:
- August 15, 2013: A day after the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in, President Barack Obama said in a statement, “While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.” Obama also announced that the US was canceling its biannual joint military exercise, Operation Bright Star.
- October 9, 2013: Obama suspends delivery of F16 fighter jets, M1A1 tank kits, Harpoon missiles and Apache helicopters. Their delivery, the US said, was contingent on “credible progress toward an inclusive, democratically elected civilian government through free and fair elections.” The US said it would continue to “provide parts for US-origin military equipment as well as military training and education.”
- January 2014: The FY14 appropriations bill exempts Egypt from an immediate suspension of nearly all assistance following a military coup d’état, until a democratically-elected government is restored. It does, however, stipulate that in order for FY14 aid to be delivered, Secretary of State John Kerry certify that the Egyptian government is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, has held a constitutional referendum and is taking steps to support a democratic transition, and has held parliamentary and presidential elections, and that a newly elected is taking steps to govern democratically.
- April 9, 2014: The US designates Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis a foreign terrorist organization.
- April 23, 2014: Then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel tells Egypt’s Minister of Defense, Sedky Sobhy that Kerry will certify to Congress that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, paving the way for the delivery of the Apache helicopters held back in October. Hagel, however, adds that the US is unable to “certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition.”
- April 28, 2014: The State Department issues a statement expressing concern over Egypt’s mass death sentences.
- April 29, 2014: Kerry and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy give a joint press conference in Washington.
- June 4, 2014: The White House issues a statement on the occasion of Sisi’s election. The statement welcomed the chance to advance the US-Egypt strategic partnership, but also expressed concern over the “the restrictive political environment” in which the election took place. The White House expresses concern over the lack of political freedom in Egypt and said it hopes Sisi will move reform towards sustainable democracy.
- June 10, 2014: Obama calls Sisi to congratulate him on his recent election and reaffirms US commitment to a strong US-Egypt relationship.
- June 22, 2014: Kerry flies to Egypt for Gaza talks, as it is revealed that the US released $575 million in military aid to Egypt from the FY14 budget, primarily, to pay existing defense contracts. The release of the Apache helicopters is also promised. The remaining $728 million of aid is available for dispersal until September 30, 2015. Kerry and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry give a joint press conference.
- June 23, 2014: Kerry issues a statement condemning the “draconian sentences” issued in the Al Jazeera trial.
- July 14, 2014: The White House extends a “late invitation” to Sisi to attend the Africa Summit in Washginton. Sisi sends Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab in his place.
- July 21, 2014: Kerry travels to Egypt again for more Gaza talks with Egyptian authorities. Kerry and Shoukry give a joint press conference. Kerry is checked by security before meeting with Sisi.
- August 16, 2014: The US issues a joint statement with Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria, on the situation in Libya.
- August 29, 2014: Kerry reiterates that the US intends to send Egypt the Apache helicopters that have been held back.
- September 2014: Kerry travels to Cairo for bilateral talks.
- September 25, 2014: Sisi and Obama meet for the first time on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Obama expresses concern over political repression in Egypt, and Deputy National Security advisor Ben Rhodes said the meeting was “productive.” Egypt’s Presidential Spokesman, Alaa Youssef said, “Sisi explained to President Barack Obama the real situation in the country since the June 30 Revolution.”
- November 2014: Congress discusses the prospect of loosening restrictions on Egypt’s military funding from the United States.
- November 9-11, 2014: The State Department sends a US Chamber of Commerce business delegation visit to Egypt including more than 150 US executives representing over sixty companies.
- December 13, 2014: The FY15 Appropriations Bill passed by Congress includes $1.45 billion in aid to Egypt, broken down into $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and $150 million for the Economic Support Fund (ESF). The FMF amount is the same as the FY14 budget, but the ESF amount has been reduced by $100 million. In order for this money to be released, Kerry must again certify that Egypt is sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States and is meeting its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and that Egypt is meeting conditions related to democracy promotion, including holding free and fair elections, releasing political prisoners, and providing detainees with due process of law.
- December 2014: After being held for a year, American Apache helicopters are delivered to Egypt.
- February 2015: During FY16 State Department budget hearings with Kerry, Congress raises no objections to resuming Egypt’s $1.3 billion aid package.
- March 12, 2015: Kerry travels to Cairo to participate in Egypt’s Economic Development Conference.
- March 31, 2015: The White House announces it is releasing military aid to Egypt citing national security concerns. Obama calls Sisi to inform him an executive hold has been lifted on twelve F-16 fighter jets, twenty missiles and up to 125 tank kits, while continuing to request $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt. Beginning in FY18, the US will channel security assistance for Egypt to four categories – counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security, and maritime security – and for sustainment of weapons systems already in Egypt’s arsenal. The US also says in a separate statement that it is ending Egypt’s use of cash flow financing (CFF) – the financial mechanism that enables Egypt to purchase equipment on credit. Israel is the only other country that is offered CFF.
- April 11, 2015: US says that it is very disappointed in the recent sentencing of Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan, who was sentenced to life in prison.
- April 28, 2015: US announces the launch of the US-Egypt Higher Education Initiative.
- May 12, 2015: A State Department document sent to Congress, published by Al Monitor, states that it cannot certify Egypt’s democratic progress as required by the appropriations bill. "While Egypt has implemented parts of its 'democracy roadmap,' the overall trajectory of rights and democracy has been negative. A series of executive initiatives, new laws, and judicial actions severely restrict freedom of expression and the press, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and due process, and they undermine prospects for democratic governance,” the assessment says.
- May 30, 2015: Egyptian-American Mohamed Soltan is released from prison and deported to the United States. Soltan’s sister, Hanaa, issues a statement saying that his release was secured “after extensive efforts” by the the US Government.
- June 2, 2015: The US House Appropriations Committee discusses the FY16 Appropriations Bill which would remove aid requirements that Egypt hold "free and fair" parliamentary elections and take steps to foster democracy and protect human rights before $1.3 billion in military aid can be released. Instead the bill requires Egypt to simply hold parliamentary elections, and requires the State Department to provide Congress with a report on steps taken by Egypt related to human rights and democracy promotion.
In 2014, trade between Russia and Egypt reached $3 billion, which according to President Vladimir Putin, reflected a 50 percent rate of growth. That same year, 3 million Russian tourists visited Egypt. While a strengthening of ties has been seen between Russia and Egypt, including a reported $3.5 billion arms deal, observers argue that Sisi does not see Russia as a replacement for the United States. The relationship, they argue, is an attempt to pressure the US into releasing suspended military aid.
- February 13, 2014: Sisi visits Russia while still Minister of Defense. During the visit, Putin expresses support for Sisi’s presidential bid before it is announced.
- August 12, 2014: Sisi visits Putin in Moscow, in his first visit to a non-African, non-Arab country. The leaders agree on enhanced bilateral cooperation, and agree on establishing a Russian industrial zone in the new Suez Canal Project. Putin promises Egypt billions of dollars in arms.
- September 17, 2014: Egypt and Russia reportedly reach a $3.5 billion arms deal.
- Feb. 9-10, 2015: Putin visits Sisi in Cairo where they sign a preliminary deal to build Egypt’s first nuclear power plant. Putin presents Sisi with an AK47.
- March 12, 2015: Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov attends Egypt’s Economic Development Conference. Egypt participates in talks with Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO about investment in the country.
- June 6, 2015: Egypt begins two-day naval exercises with the Russian navy.
Prior to the revolution of 2011, an estimated 2 million Egyptian expatriates were living in Libya. However, as of mid-February 2015, the number has dropped to around 200,000.
- July 3, 2014: Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy meets Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan and Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdul-Aziz to discuss Egyptian-Libyan relations and means of providing security to Egyptian workers in Libya.
- July 2014: More than 15,000 Egyptians attempted to escape violence in Tripoli through the Tunisian border.
- August 2015: The Egyptian government organizes evacuation flights for Egyptians, a reported 1,170 Egyptians return to Egypt.
- January 3, 2015: Thirteen Coptic Egyptians are kidnapped in Libya
- January 25, 2014: Five Egyptian embassy staff members are kidnapped by armed men. The Operation Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries (ORLR) claims responsibility, and demands the release of ORLR leader Shaaban Hadiya. Two days later, the embassy staff members and Hadiya are released. Egypt closes embassy offices in Tripoli.
- February 24, 2014: Seven Egyptians are killed by unknown assailants in Benghazi. According to media reports, the victims, all Copts, were shot execution style in the head and chest.
- April 4, 2014: Fifty Egyptian truck drivers are detained by armed Libyans.
- July 19, 2014: Twenty-two Egyptian soldiers are killed in a drive-by shooting near the Libyan border.
- July 27, 2014: Twenty-three Egyptian workers are killed in Tripoli in a rocket attack. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry urges Egyptians to avoid travel to Libya.
- October 15, 2014: Media reports emerge that Egypt and the UAE are involved in airstrikes on militias in Benghazi. Egypt denies the claims.
- February 15, 2015: ISIS releases video allegedly killing twenty Egyptian Coptic christians in libya , Sisi vows to “punish the murderers.”
- February 16, 2015: Egypt conducts multiple airstrikes in Derna and Sirte, killing at least sixty-four militants. The airstrikes are carried out in coordination with Abdallah al-Thinni’s government. "Egypt reserves the right to respond in the method and timing it deems suitable for retribution from these killers," Sisi said. Egypt calls on the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq to expand its scope to include Libya.
- February 17, 2015: Egypt unsuccessfully calls for a UN resolution mandating military action in Libya
- February 18, 2015: Libyan and Egyptian workers unions work together to evacuate Egyptian workers from the country
- March 2015: Egypt evacuates 6,699 citizens from Libya, Egypt Air announces it will hold extra flights for Egyptians wanting to exacuate
- May 7, 2015: The Egyptian army rescues twenty-seven Ethiopians kidnapped in Libya.
Ethiopia has gained importance in Egyptian foreign policy only so far as its plans to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and how it impacts Egypt. When a plan for the dam was announced in 2011, tensions were high between Egypt and Ethiopia, culminating with a meeting of Egyptian politicians and leaders led by Morsi aired live on Egyptian TV unbeknownst to them, as they suggested arming Ethiopian rebels destroying the dam. A few months later, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry refuses Egypt’s request to halt construction on the dam.
Under Sisi, the tension has eased. In March 2015, in an interview aired on Ethiopian TV, he said “We are taking about a new era between Egypt and Ethiopia,” during a visit to the country. He also noted that 55 million Egyptians work in agriculture.
- June 9, 2014: Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister invites Sisi to visit Ethiopia.
- June 26, 2014: On the sidelines of the Africa Summit, Sisi meets with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
- August 26, 2014: Egypt says it is satisfied with Egypt-Ethiopia negotiations taking place in Sudan, after three rounds of failed negotiations. An Egyptian Ethiopian, and Sudanese commission had earlier found that the dam’s impact on Egypt would be minimal.
- September 20, 2014: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan hold their first set of Tripartite National Committee talks.
- January 26, 2015: Sisi travels to Ethiopia to take part in the African Union Summit, where he agrees with Desalegn to continue cooperating on dam negotiations.
- March 23, 2015: Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, sign a “Declaration of Principles” paving the way for further negotiations. Sisi says, “We have chosen cooperation, and to trust one another for the sake of development.”
- May 7, 2015: Egypt says that, in coordination with the Ethiopian government, it secures the release of twenty-seven Ethiopians who were kidnapped in Ethiopia. Sisi greeted the freed Ethiopians at the airport.
Sisi’s recent visit to Germany came at the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. His visit to Berlin was previously conditional on Egypt holding parliamentary elections. That stipulation was removed after the delay of the elections.
- March 13-15, 2015: German Minister of Commerce attends Egypt’s Economic Development Conference
- May 19, 2015: German parliament rescinds offer to meet with Sisi due to human rights violations in Egypt. Egypt responds by saying that Sisi did not request the visit.
- March 30, 2015: German MP and head of the Christian Union parliamentary bloc, Volker Kauder, meets with Sisi, says Germany needs to intensify relations with Egypt
- June 3-7, 2015: Sisi visits Germany, meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
- June 3, 2015: German energy company, Siemens, signs a $9 billion power deal with Egypt.