The past year has seen an ongoing debate among U.S. policy makers over what exactly happened in Egypt last summer. The Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton very visibly supported the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi. But over the course of Morsi’s one year in power, the majority of Egyptians did not like what they saw as a systematic undoing of democratic processes in Egypt.
Egyptians took to the streets by the millions in July 2013 to protest against the Muslim Brotherhood government. When the military stepped in, headed by General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the Brotherhood were ousted and an interim government was formed. The Obama administration was careful not to label the events of July 2013 as a coup, but neither did they come out in support of Sisi. Additionally, Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham held a news conference in Cairo on August 6th and declared the events a coup.
It was an important distinction, because by law the U.S. must suspend aid to a country where a “coup” has taken place.
In the months since that time a debate has continued to rage both in the media and in policy circles over whether El-Sisi, who next week will likely be elected Egypt’s next president, is a savior who rescued Egypt from a theocratic despotism or whether he himself is the despot who is merely oppressing and imprisoning his political opponents.
Yesterday, the House of Representatives cast an important vote in this debate on the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contains very specific language about events in Egypt. In essence, the passing of the NDAA will assert that Egypt is on the democratic track, that Sisi is not merely oppressing his enemies, but that Egypt is indeed in an existential battle with Islamist terrorists. While the NDAA does not specifically name the Muslim Brotherhood as a source of terrorism—another hotly debated issue—it does implicitly suggest that the MB has ties to terrorist groups, whether implicitly or explicitly.
The full text of the NDAA relating to Egypt is as follows:
The committee notes with concern the growing Al Qaeda presence and associated terrorist attacks in the Arab Republic of Egypt. Presently, at least six terrorist groups with links to Al Qaeda operate in Egypt, including the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and the al-Furqan Brigades. In recent months, terrorist attacks in Egypt claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptians and over 350 soldiers and police officers. Within the past 6 months, there have been over 280 attacks in the Sinai Peninsula. On January 24, 2014, Al Qaeda-linked terrorists conducted a series of coordinated attacks that killed 6 and injured over 100 people in Cairo.
Egypt is not only enduring the effects of terrorism from the Sinai Peninsula, it is also enduring the increasing flow of foreign fighters and military material from its western and southern borders with Libya and the Republic of the Sudan, respectively.
The committee understands that the Secretary of State, in accordance with section 7041 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (Public Law 113-71), will certify to Congress that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition and that the President has made the decision to deliver 10 Apache helicopters to support Egypt’s counterterrorism operations in the Sinai Peninsula. Given the significant increase in terrorist activity, the close relationship that the Egyptian military has with the U.S. military, and the interim Government’s support of the peace treaty with the State of Israel, the committee supports the President’s decision to provide the Apache aircraft to the Government of Egypt. The committee further believes that the United States should provide necessary security assistance to the Government of Egypt, specifically focused on areas of mutual security interest.
The committee remains concerned that if the United States does not engage through security assistance with the Government of Egypt and the Egyptian military, then other countries, such as the Russian Federation, may fill this gap, which would work at cross-purposes with vital U.S. national security interests.
The committee continues to closely observe Egypt’s transition towards a new democratic government structure and is encouraged by both the direction and progress that the interim Government has made in this realm. In January 2014, Egyptians participated in a referendum to approve a new constitution, which includes protections for individual freedoms, equal protection and rights for all Egyptians, government transparency and accountability, and improved civilian oversight of the Egyptian military. Additionally, the committee is encouraged that the presidential and parliamentary elections appear to be on track and likely to be completed by the summer of 2014, and urges the Government of Egypt to ensure that the elections are free, fair, and devoid of fraud. The committee is concerned by reports that there may have been human rights violations that have occurred in Egypt. The committee encourages the next President of Egypt to address the economic and political needs of the Egyptian people, including the protections for individual freedom and human rights reflected in the new Egyptian constitution.
Should the NDAA pass with the above language intact, it will mean that the political elite in Washington finally recognize that Egypt is in an existential fight against the same type of global jihadists that were responsible for the attacks against America in 2001.
Katharine C. Gorka is president of the Council on Global Security.