Egypt 'must meet six conditions' to resume US aid
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must meet six conditions set by the United States to ensure the resumption of financial aid to Cairo, diplomatic sources have said.
This week, US President Donald Trump decided to freeze $195 million of aid to Cairo in response to Egypt's poor record on democracy and civil liberties.
The move has come as a surprise after Trump pledged strong tries with the key US ally after they had deteriorated under his predecessor Barack Obama.
Egyptian diplomats based in Cairo and Washington told The New Arab on Sunday that Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has assigned the ambassador to the US and other consuls to find out the reasons for the unexpected move to cut aid.
The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said communications with members of Congress have revealed disagreement within the Trump administration over the conditions that Egypt must meet to win back confidence and restore the military aid.
They explained that the US' main concerns can be boiled down to six main issues related to human rights, civil liberties and foreign policy, which the Sisi government must improve on to end the monetary freeze.
The primary point of contention, according to the sources, is a law ratified by Sisi in May that effectively bans the work of non-governmental organisations [NGOs].
The NGO law, which critics have slammed as "draconian" and say will severely restrict the work of civil society, including by banning studies without prior permission from the state, with large fines for violations.
The sources said the Trump administration wants Egyptian authorities to amend the legislation to allow US NGOs to operate without tight restrictions from security services and to ensure the safety of social workers.
The second condition is for authorities to ease constraints on political freedom, allowing left-wing and Islamist-leaning parties to take part in public life.
Sisi has led a brutal crackdown on political dissidents since he came into power in 2013 in a military coup that overthrew the country's first freely elected President Mohamed Morsi. As many as 60,000 political prisoners are languishing in jails after a clampdown on a demoncratic and Islamist activists.
The sources said Washington is keen on Sisi releasing left-wing and Islamist prisoners detained in the wake of the takeover to "reduce the risk of radicalisation".
They added the fate of Morsi's now-banned Muslim Brotherhood was not a pressing issue for Washington, which is more interested in emergence of an alternative "representative for the Islamist trend".
Regarding foreign policy, the US is anxious about Cairo's dealings with North Korea and Russia and is calling for a halt to relations with Pyongyang and a "re-positioning" towards Moscow.
Egypt has been close with North Korea since at least the 1970s and has been accused of supplying Pyongyang with Scud missiles and other military equipment. Egyptian telecom giant Orascom helped set up North Korea's mobile phone network.
"Washington believes that Moscow has done nothing to push Sisi into committing to his obligations towards the US," one of the diplomats said. The US believes the suspension of Russian flights to Egypt has unnecessarily further crippled the already battered the country's economy, he added.
The fourth concern, according to the sources, is the "lack of transparency" in Egypt's fight against an insurgency in the north of the Sinai Peninsula, where an Islamic State group affiliate has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen.
Egypt's security forces have been accused of carrying out extrajudicial executions as part of a campaign against IS and indiscriminately targeting civilians in the largest deployment of forces since the 1973 war with Israel.
The sources said the US wants the Egyptian military to "adhere to human rights standards" and prevent the once resistive peninsula from becoming a hotbed for extremists fleeing defeats in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
Washington is also eager for Egypt to play a bigger role in the peace process in Libya and reviving Israeli-Palestinian talks.
"There is the prevailing belief among US decision-making circles that Sisi has failed to move the peace process in the region," one source said, adding that Washington is keen to make "optimal use" of Egypt in the two files in return for continued assistance.
On Wednesday, presidential adviser Jared Kushner visited Cairo to discuss the Middle East peace process with statements after the meeting from the Egyptian presidency and foreign ministry failing to mention the aid cuts.
The final prerequisite for a return of US aid to Cairo is for Sisi to scale back the military's growing domination of the economy and open up the market for foreign investors to create more job opportunities, the sources said.
The military's economic activities date back to the 1970s, and since then the armed forces have built factories, hotels, bridges and roads. The military also runs gas stations, farms and livestock enterprises.
The 2011 uprising that toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent political instability scared off tourists and investors, devastating the North African country's economy.