President Sisi received a phonecall from the White House just before April Fools, apparently informing him that arms purchases that were withheld from Egypt will soon be released. Why the sudden change of heart within the Administration?
Rumour has it that it was Roland Lauder’s involvement that did the trick. Lauder, of Estee Lauder fame, and who is also, incidentally, president of the World Jewish Congress, had met President Sisi on the margins of the Economic Development Conference in Sharm El Sheikh in mid March. This wasn’t the first meeting between both gentlemen, as they had met in Cairo last January too.
Sisi’s surge against militants in Sinai, his crackdown on tunnels, his bufferzone, and his bitter distancing of Hamas had earned him credentials with our neighbours across the border. You will remember that relations with Israel, especially on issues of security had never been better, according to pronouncements from Sisi’s own lieutenants.
During the March meeting, Lauder insisted that he will do whatever it takes to support Tel Aviv’s new man in Cairo and asked what he could do. The response was to help release weapons withheld by the United States. This was followed by a short conversation between both men, and an agreement of the minds with regards to President Obama’s shabby performance on all issues Middle East.
Lauder then took a plane out to Jordan where he met Prime Minister Ensour with whom he also had a rabid exchange on the demerits of the current U.S. administration (more on that perhaps in the future). Lauder had his work cut out for him once he returned home. Contacts with the President’s office and further conversations with Senator McCain, who has a strong say on U.S. military aid as Chairman of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, sealed the deal and garnered bipartisan cognizance of the importance of restoring military ties with the man perceived to hold the reins to stability in the Middle East.
Likely, President Obama, and certainly his “coup” averse National Security Adviser Mrs. Rice, were unhappy with the decision, and they may have even felt that their arm was twisted. But with the Jewish Congress and the GOP already at odds with the administration over talks in Lausanne, the administration may have thought it would be a good idea to give in something of a pacifying bone.
On the other hand, that’s not to say that Egypt will be getting all that it wants. The United states will end cash-flow financing to Egypt, which means that Egypt will not be able to buy arms on credit, and will not be able to use future payouts of its annual military aid as collateral against present deals. Purchasing high-end fighters, naval vessels and battle tanks will also be more difficult as they will not conform to U.S. interests in providing Egypt with weapons suitable for counterterrorism, but not particularly suitable to project military might against state-actors.
Of course, there is a great deal of chance that the United States will renege on this moral resolve not to supply Egypt with Category VI, VII and VIII munitions which are irrelevant to counterterrorism. Egypt is already in the market for these weapons systems from France, Russia, China, Brazil and Canada among others. There may come a time in the not-so-distant future when Congressmen and Administration come to a realization that there is no point in preventing U.S. companies from their rightful piece of the action. And if the United States chooses to endorse the use of Egypt as a mercenary in the war against Houthis, or to fend off militants in Libya, then this will keep the arms rolling.
Mind you, despite the arms transfers, we’re still a long way from the chumminess of Mubarak’s second decade. Thorny issues such as Egypt’s refusal to grant licences to the NDI and IRI will remain, well, thorny. And as long as Fayza remains Sisi’s National Security Adviser, then there really is no sign of sincere rapprochement between Sisi’s regime and the United States. What we have now is an arrangement of convenience, abetted by the magnanimous intervention of Mr. Lauder, and the support of die hard Tea Partyists and other Congressmen who receive talking points on the Middle East from a certain country within the Middle East.