The news that Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi secretly hoped to produce rockets for Russia, as reported in the April 11 front-page article “Egypt planned to send arms to Russia, leak reveals,” is shocking but not surprising. Egypt enjoys a privileged position as a longtime U.S. ally, but it has long sought to carefully maintain close ties with U.S. adversaries. Cairo does so for its own strategic interests — and, as a reminder, that Mr. Sisi might turn away from the West.
Egypt’s position causes constant concern for Washington, but in so brazenly planning to supply weapons to Russia after it invaded Ukraine, Mr. Sisi has overplayed his hand. Washington can reset the terms of the relationship, with foreign military financing as a key piece of such leverage.
In 2017, the capture of a North Korean ship taking rockets to Egypt caused a similar scandal. In September 2017, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson withheld $290 million in security assistance to Egypt, in part based on a set of conditions related to cooler ties with Pyongyang. Mr. Tillerson included human rights conditions upon release of the assistance.
Unlike the Trump administration, the Biden administration has declared that its foreign policy and national security strategy are based on advancing a values-based system and international order. The rocket scandal presents an opportunity to go further than previous administrations. The Biden administration should make clear to Egypt that our values and interests rest on upholding the rule of law, democratic norms, and human rights at home and abroad.
Allison McManus, Washington
The writer is managing director of the Freedom Initiative.