Egypt and the United States held a strategic dialogue session on 2 August, with the American delegation headed by Secretary of State John Kerry and his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, chairing the Egyptian delegation.
The fact that the two governments agreed to hold this strategic dialogue session testifies to the fact that bilateral relations between Cairo and Washington are moving in the right direction after a period of tense relations following the 30 June Revolution and the ouster of former Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi.
Egyptian-American relations took a nosedive in the four months following the 30 June Revolution. The US administration withheld delivery of four F-16 fighters to Egypt in July 2013 and then announced the postponement of the Bright Stars military exercises that were scheduled to take place in September 2013.
Not only did the American administration adopt a negative attitude towards the political developments in Egypt after the revolution, but the US media also went into overdrive in criticising the Egyptian government and military. Needless to say, relations worsened after the dispersal of the two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August 2013.
The American anti-June Revolution position was hard to swallow for the majority of Egyptians, especially in the light of their growing opposition to the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood from 2012 to 2013.
The first breakthrough in the relations between the two governments took place in November 2013 when Kerry made a stopover in Cairo and held talks with Egypt’s then-Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. This was the first visit by a senior American official to the Egyptian capital after the June developments in Egypt.
In the joint press conference held after the talks Kerry announced that the US administration had agreed to hold a strategic dialogue with Egypt at the request of the Egyptian authorities.
Kerry’s visit was a signal that the United States had decided to engage with the new government in Egypt, but in an American context of conditions related to the democratic transition, human rights, civil society and the reintegration of the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process in Egypt.
In the meantime, Kerry said that the US supported the road map announced on 3 July 2013 by the then-Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. This announcement was an explicit recognition by the United States of the post-Brotherhood political order in Egypt.
Almost a year later, and after the election of Al-Sisi as president in May 2014, US President Barack Obama met President Al-Sisi in New York on 25 September 2014 on the sidelines of the 69th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Putting aside the body language of the US president during this meeting, the talks were a signal that the Obama administration had decided to try to restore normalcy to American-Egyptian relations.
In between the New York meeting and the strategic dialogue session this August, Obama informed the Egyptian president that the United States had decided to resume arms deliveries to Egypt and that Washington would release the F-16s.
He also made it clear that the United States, effective from 2018, would introduce changes to its military assistance to Egypt. It would provide arms and military equipment related to counterterrorism, border security and maritime security, he said.
The strategic dialogue sessions held in Cairo dealt with bilateral relations, regional developments and the P5+1 deal with Iran. Prior to the arrival of Kerry in Cairo, Republican Senator Marc Rubio, a US presidential elections contender, wrote a letter with a group of American Congressmen asking Kerry to discuss a reform agenda with the Egyptian government during the Cairo dialogue.
Kerry himself received what the State Department described as representatives of Egypt’s civil society, namely Mohamed Sultan and his sister. The former was detained in Egypt for more than a year pending sentencing in a trial known as the “Marriott Gezira cell” case. He was released from jail in part because, as an American citizen, his incarceration in Egypt had made waves abroad, especially in the American media.
The Egyptian-American strategic dialogue has put Egyptian-American relations on a new path at a time when the Middle East is witnessing major strategic shifts that have propelled both Turkey and Iran onto the Arab scene as never before.
Turkey, after reaching an agreement with the United States, has given the latter the right to use airbases in Turkey to fly sorties and air attacks against Islamic State (IS) group positions in Syria.
n return, the Turkish government has accepted the idea of fighting IS, something it is using as a smokescreen to provide more assistance to the groups fighting the Syrian army in order to overthrow the regime led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad in Damascus.
These strategic shifts have brought Egypt and Saudi Arabia closer together in the military field. The two countries signed what is known as the Cairo Declaration on 30 July, one of the objectives of which is to create an Arab joint force to meet threats and challenges to Arab security and stability, and intensify military cooperation between the two governments.
It is to be hoped that the resumption of the strategic dialogue between Cairo and Washington will usher in a new and constructive chapter in Egyptian-American relations, one that is based on mutual understanding and mutual interests between the United States as a superpower and Egypt as a major regional player whose interests and priorities must be taken into account.
In the meantime, these enhanced relations should not be used by the United States as an excuse to meddle in Egyptian domestic politics. Putting our house in order is our responsibility and ours alone.
The writer is a former assistant to the foreign minister.