On April 3, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was welcomed to the White House by President Trump. Trump told Sisi, “You have a great friend and ally in the United States - and in me.” To the American people Trump stated, “I just want to let everybody know that we are very much behind President Sisi; he has done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.” But what kind of fantastic job has President Sisi done?
In 2013, Sisi seized control of Egypt in a military coup that removed Egypt’s first democratically elected leader. Following Sisi’s seizure of power, Egyptians have experienced a complete breakdown of civil society and suffered a surge in human rights violations. Demonstrators, dissenters, and journalists have been tried and sentenced to death. Most horrifically, the largest massacre of nonviolent protesters in modern times took place on August 14, 2013 when approximately 1,000 civilians were killed while conducting a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth called the August 14 massacre, “one of the worst killing of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” and pointed out the violence was “intentionally planned at the highest levels of Egyptian society.”
Despite massive condemnations and protests by human rights groups, U.S. senior officials announced prior to Sisi’s visit that human rights violations would not be among the items openly discussed by the American and Egyptian leaders but instead such matters would be handled in a “private, more discreet way.” It is understood that Sisi wants an increase above the already $1.3 billion Egypt receives from the U.S. in foreign military aid.
Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign military aid after Israel. Although the White House promised that it wants to maintain “strong and sufficient” support for Egypt, Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 includes massive cuts to U.S. foreign aid. The money that Egypt receives from the U.S. goes not to feed the poor and to build infrastructure but to purchase U.S. manufactured military equipment, such as F-16 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, armored personnel carriers, and anti-aircraft missile batteries. The aid is not conditional upon Egyptian adherence to human rights standards.
On March 17th, President Trump released his budget proposal for 2017, which included a $54 billion increase in military spending. To pay for this, Trump is proposing massive cuts to the EPA, Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and other essential services that Americans depend upon for their safety, welfare and prosperity.
Among the cuts are a 28 percent decrease in spending to the U.S. Department of State, which will slash funding for the UN, foreign assistance, peacekeeping and other non-military methods that have been proven, time and time again, to be more effective in ending violence and terrorism than military action. However, military assistance, particularly military assistance that benefits U.S. military corporations is continued. For example, Israel’s $3.1 billion per year in U.S. foreign military aid, which is spent on U.S. weapons companies like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Rytheon, is safely set aside from any cuts.
Israel, like Egypt, uses its U.S. foreign military aid to carry out egregious human rights violations. Since 1967, Israel has maintained a military occupation of the West Bank. Extrajudicial executions, checkpoints and a military court used to imprison children and silence nonviolent human rights activists are among the internationally recognized circumstances under which Palestinians have been forced to live for generations. The densely and overly populated Gaza strip has endured three U.S.-supported massive assaults in the past 10 years that have killed thousands of civilians, including hundreds of children. This, coupled with Israel’s land, naval, and air blockade on Gaza, has caused a massive humanitarian crisis, including unsafe drinking water for 90 percent of Gaza’s population
If Trump’s budget proposal is passed, with the $54 billion increase in defense spending he wants, this increased Pentagon spending will come at the expense of eliminating billions in funding for early childhood after school programs, all levels of educational assistance, health care for all ages, low-income housing for people in every part of the country in both rural and urban areas, programs to feed the disabled and elderly, much needed public transportation and infrastructure upgrades, and protections to ensure our children are consuming safe food and drugs, drinking clean water and breathing non-toxic air. The money removed from these already underfunded programs and departments would instead be used to purchase more warships, warplanes and missiles for the U.S. to continue the seemingly endless wars in the Middle East that have already killed more than one million people.
As American people concerned with human rights and civil society, we must come together to demand that our funds be used for after-school programs, health care, low-income housing, feeding the poor and elderly, public transportation, and environmental protection. It must not be used to increase the purchase of warships, warplanes and missiles, or to provide unquestioned military aid to the oppressive regimes of Israel and Egypt. Now more than ever, we must resist the theft of our resources spent on the worthless killing of so many overseas.