Authors | Editors: Polansky (Pagano), S. (NSI, Inc.); Peterson, N. (NSI, Inc.)
The United States’ relationship with Egypt is generally thought to be an important one (Miller, 2020; Sharp, 2019; Wisner & Salem, 2017). However, some experts suggest that the benefits obtained by the United States for its assistance to Egypt may be overstated (Hanna, 2020; Miller, 2020). Some members of Congress are similarly critical of this relationship (Barfi, 2020; Salem, 2020). Despite these criticisms, the expert contributors generally believe that the relationship will not undergo any fundamental shifts in the near-term (Former White House and State Department official, 2020; Hanna, 2020; Miller, 2020; Salem, 2020). Several experts note that this question has in part been “stress tested” in the past—with Egypt undergoing several notable events (e.g., protest, a bloody crackdown, Islamist control, military coup) during the 2011-2014 period—with only a temporary suspension of United States assistance to Egypt implemented as a result (M. Dunne, 2020; Former White House and State Department official, 2020; Hanna, 2020; Miller, 2020; Salem, 2020). The continuity and durability of US policy toward Egypt highlights the strategic significance of the relationship and suggests that the tipping point threshold for a severe United States policy response to Egyptian events is high (M. Dunne, 2020; Former White House and State Department official, 2020; Miller, 2020).
The experts nevertheless cite a variety of events that could, in theory, prompt a strong response from the United States, characterized by major policy shifts and mil-mil restrictions. These can be classified into seven broad categories, with the first two being the most likely: a) deepening ties between Egypt and Russia, b) violent crackdowns by the Egyptian state, c) coups of a different kind than those seen in the recent past (e.g., coup by junior military officers), d) Egyptian misuse of American weapons, e) an Egyptian violation of its peace treaty with Israel, f) events that bring into question whether Egypt is a friendly and reliable partner, and g) events that fundamentally violate the nature of the US-Egyptian relationship. In deciphering how the United States is likely to respond to these events, it is also important to consider the role that administration preferences and priorities play (M. Dunne, 2020; Former White House and State Department official, 2020; Hanna, 2020; Miller, 2020; Salem, 2020).
From an Egyptian strategic perspective, it would be unwise to react punitively to a shift in United States policy by degrading or denying current access, basing, and overflight (ABO) agreements or otherwise endanger its military relationship with the United States. However, several expert contributors (C. Dunne, 2020; M. Dunne, 2020; Miller, 2020) indicate that a drastic reduction or permanent termination by the United States of its provision of aid to Egypt may lead the Egyptians to violate the ABO agreements or pursue an alternative foreign partner, such as Russia, China, or one of the Gulf states, for military assistance. Precipitating factors are likely to include a number of internal pressures including an ongoing financial crisis and competition for resources and influence among the myriad Syrian government and externally- funded security services operating in Syria.