US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi reaffirmed their countries’ close military ties Wednesday, Sisi’s office said, during the Cairo leg of Austin’s regional tour.
Sisi highlighted “Egypt’s eagerness to strengthen its strategic partnership with the United States”, particularly in military and security cooperation, presidential spokesman Ahmed Fahmy said.
Egypt’s military is the effective overlord of politics in the country, including in the current Sisi regime which has jailed tens of thousands of political opponents.
The Pentagon chief’s stop in Cairo comes on the heels of his surprise visit to Baghdad ahead of the 20th anniversary of the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, as well as after talks in Amman with staunch US ally King Abdullah II.
In both the Iraqi and Jordanian capitals, Austin spoke of the US’s commitment to security and stability in the region.
In a Twitter post ahead of his meeting with Sisi, Austin called the US’s defence partnership with Egypt “an essential pillar” of the US’s “commitment to this region”.
Austin’s tweet drew criticism from activists, highlighting the Egyptian military’s role in oppressing civilians.
“Few weeks ago, this guy was quoting #MLK & today he embraces mass murderer #Sisi #Egypt. Faker,” journalist and Saudi expert Ali AlAhmed tweeted.
Others accused Sisi of being the “protector of Israel” and working “for the Americans” and Israelis.
According to the presidential spokesman, Austin also hailed Cairo’s role as “a responsible stabilising force” in the Middle East, highlighting “defence cooperation as the main pillar of relations between the two countries”.
Cairo is a key ally of the United States in the region, playing a mediator role between the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as holding sway in other regional hotspots.
The US sends over $1 billion a year in direct military aid to Egypt, which has been one of the largest recipients of US assistance since it became the first Arab nation to normalise relations with Israel in 1979.
Though voices within the US Congress had called for broader aid cuts to Egypt over its notorious human rights record, President Joe Biden withheld only $130 million in 2021.
In January, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on Sisi to “free all political prisoners” – of which rights groups estimate Egypt holds some 60,000 – while welcoming the “important strides” the country has made.