Controversy precedes Egyptian intelligence chief’s Washington visit

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The upcoming visit to the United States by the head of Egyptian Intelligence Service, Major General Abbas Kamel, has revived an old debate over whether Washington  should care first about Egypt’s role as a strong regional security ally or be concerned instead about the most populous Arab country’s human rights’ record.

Cairo is not deterred by the reservations of some in the United States who still insist that human rights in Egypt should be the determining factor in the relationship between the two countries, not strategic interests.

The Washington Post editorial said Tuesday that the timing of Kamel’s visit “ought to shame an administration that says human rights advocacy is central to its foreign policy” as his arrival comes in the wake of a Cairo court’s sentencing to death of 12 Muslim Brotherhood figures.

“Kamel,” argued the liberal daily, “ought to be asked by senior US officials and members of Congress” about whether Egypt intends to carry out the sentences.

The Egyptian intelligence chief “should also be questioned about reports that his agency supported Saudi operations to abduct or kill exiled dissidents, including journalist and Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”

Amr Abdel-Aty, an Egyptian political analyst specialising in American affairs, said that some in the US media are trying to shift the focus from Egypt’s success in reaching a ceasefire in Gaza to Cairo’s humans rights.

A file picture shows Egyptian General Intelligence Service Chief Major General Abbas Kamel during a meeting with the Egyptian President at the Presidential Palace in the capital Cairo. (AFP)
A file picture shows Egyptian General Intelligence Service Chief Major General Abbas Kamel during a meeting with the Egyptian President at the Presidential Palace in the capital Cairo. (AFP)

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Abdel-Aty added that Abbas Kamel’s visit to Washington at this time buttresses the growing role that Cairo is playing in the region as well as the Biden administration’s appreciation for Egypt’s strategic weight considering the vacuum created by Washington’s gradual withdrawal from the Middle East.

Egyptian sources told The Arab Weekly that Kamel’s trip aims to transform the personal rapport established between the two presidents into a good institutional relationship between the two nations and to build on existing close ties between the two countries’ military establishments. This is especially the case since a number of current intelligence leaders in the United States previously dealt with the Egyptian regime during the Obama administration.

President Abdelfattah al-Sisi’s government  has shown, after the success of its mediation between Israel and Hamas last month, that it can play an important role in preventing regional security crises.

Abbas Kamel’s Washington visit is believed to aim for a sort of US-Egypt policy reset after Gaza. Cairo is said to have begun to reformulate its policies in a way that does not conflict with US positions in the region based on the assumption that human rights in Egypt will not be an obstacle to developing the bilateral relationship.

A human rights group called on members of Congress to question the Egyptian intelligence chief on a recent report by “Yahoo News” alleging that a Saudi plane carrying a team of killers had stopped off in Cairo in October 2018 to pick up the lethal drugs used to kill Khashoggi.

Major General Kamel is going Washington to meet US intelligence officials and members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  The visit is important to Cairo as it reflects the intensification of contacts between the two countries after Biden talked twice by phone with Sisi during the Gaza war.

The conversations were the first of their kind after a period of uncertainty between the two sides, as Biden had criticised his Republican rival, former President Donald Trump, during the election campaign, for the way he dealt with Sisi, describing the Egyptian leader as Trump’s “favourite dictator” and saying that Biden “will not give anyone a blank check.”

However, the Gaza war confirmed the importance of Egypt’s role for the United States in helping ensure security and stability in the region, analysts say. As the two capitals nudged closer, strengthening strategic relations took the upper hand over US human rights concerns.

Sources in Washington said the US administration has subsequently expressed greater understanding of Egyptian demands in the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam crisis. They spoke of attempts to formulate an agreement that satisfies the three countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan but the rejection of a military solution to the row.

The former head of the Egyptian army’s reconnaissance service, Major General Nasr Salem, said that the visit of the head of the intelligence service should help clarify Egyptian viewpoints towards regional problems, such as the removal of mercenaries from Libya, the Renaissance Dam crisis and the Palestinian issue. Greater coordination between the two countries on these concerns is expected in the future.

Talking to The Arab Weekly, Salem added that the current relationship between Cairo and Washington can be described as “stable and could potentially develop further”, as Egypt seeks to build stronger ties with the Biden administration.

Considering the lingering ambiguities in the US relationship with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and the stalled negotiations with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme, Cairo sees an opportunity it should not miss to appear as a strong ally deserving of Washington’s support.

Source: Arab Weekly

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