Although congress is undecided on whether an Apache sale to Egypt should go ahead, the US military is quietly continuing deliveries
A senior US military official has confirmed to Middle East Eye that the US delivered a refurbished Apache helicopter to Egypt in April - though another 10 of the aircraft are being withheld for deliveries due to human rights concerns raised by Congress
Department of Defence spokesperson, Commander Bill Speaks, confirmed the Apache’s delivery to MEE in July, justifying the shipment by saying the Apache was “previously sold and delivered”.
Concerning the 10 Apaches being withheld, Speaks confirmed that the aircraft were in storage at Fort Hood, Texas. “We are making decisions with respect to our assistance to Egypt in consultation with congress,” he added.
An initial announcement in April that the US would lift its suspension of the 10 Apaches drew criticism from Human Rights Watch, which expressed fears that the regime plans to employ “scorched-earth type tactics, in which helicopters are part of that campaign”.
The deputy director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division, Joe Stork, said the group's concerns remain exactly the same. "We don't know how Egypt's military campaign is being conducted in the Sinai. Journalists don't have access, and Egyptian journalists are put in jail or threatened with jail if they report anything.
Stork said the fact is they're being used as part of an overall military campaign, and that HRW doesn't know to what extent it's being conducted in accordance with the laws of war.
“I think one of the conditions that Senator Leahy [US Senator and chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees foreign aid] has set on delivery of the Apaches has been that the US military attache at the US embassy in Cairo be able to have access to the Sinai, so that the US government would at least know how the Apaches are being used. That seems like an absolutely minimal condition, which as far as I know Egypt has not agreed to."
Human Rights Watch’s concerns appear sound; on 3 August, a child was killed and four people wounded when two Apaches heavily bombed a number of villages in Sheikh Zuwaid, North Sinai.
Osama Saleh, of the Egyptian Americans for Democracy and Human Rights, expressed concern over what the US’ military exports mean for Egyptians. He told MEE: “The US military assistance provides the Egyptian army a sense of false security and a belief that killing its own people can be overlooked.”
MEE also contacted Neil Hicks, Director of Human Rights Promotion at Human Rights First, for his views on what a solution might look like. He said, “We support a comprehensive overhaul of the annual aid package so that the majority of aid would be shifted away from military assistance to projects that directly meet the needs of the Egyptian people.”
Congress approved the release of $572 million in aid to the Egyptian government in June, but the remainder of the $1.5 billion in aid remains withheld pending John Kerry’s certification that Egypt was on the road to a democratic transition.
Apache helicopters had been part of the original arms freeze to Egypt announced by the State Department in October of 2013, which still includes M1-A1 tank parts, F16 jets, and Harpoon missiles.
Egypt has been seeking the release of the Apaches for months in order to assist their crackdown on the Sinai Peninsula. According to reports, Egypt has 34 Apache helicopters in its possession; however, 12 are not currently operating due to maintenance issues.
After months of unelected military rule, former Commander-in-Chief of the Egyptian armed forces, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, won an election in May with a reported 96.9 percent of the vote.
Following the election, The Working Group on Egypt, a group of US experts, sent a letter to US President Barack Obama, stating that the Egyptian military “has hijacked the country’s nascent democracy,” and “we urge that your administration not certify, based on this election, that the Egyptian government has met the congressional condition of taking ‘steps to support a democratic transition.”
The congressional condition to which the Working Group was referring is a law passed in January, which makes hundreds of millions in aid contingent upon Egypt’s “taking steps to support a democratic transition." Sarah Margon, Washington Director of Human Rights Watch, agrees with the Working Group, saying, “It’s abundantly clear that Egypt is not taking steps toward a democratic transition.”
In April, John Kerry said that he is not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps toward a democratic transition.
The US has maintained strong support for the Egyptian military for decades. According to the Congressional Research Service, the US has sent Egypt $74.65 billion since 1948.
A recent US Senate-spending bill included a $400 million cut in US aid to Egypt; however, the House version of the bill included no aid cuts.