Although the State Department was ignored by the government of Egypt after inquiring about the use of American-made riot gear, US diplomats said the security assistance was in compliance with human rights law.
They did the same after Egyptian officials failed to reply to questions about the destination of US-provided night vision goggles — although State knew it was going to the Ministry of Interior; an organization notorious for its repressive elements.
And when Egyptian officials failed to disclose to US officials, in a pre-sale check, what military equipment it was ordering and how much of it — in a transaction that involved unidentified foreign intermediaries — American envoys also said that was okay.
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The anecdotes were reported by the Government Accountability Office in a recent investigation on US aid to Egypt from 2011-2015 — years in which the key US ally saw its first democratically-elected president rise to power only to be overthrown by the military. Federal statutes prohibit the provision of assistance to known foreign abusers of human rights through the so-called Leahy Laws; named after their author, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
In each case, the failure to follow up on Egypt’s evasiveness was part of a compliance program called “Blue Lantern” — a little-known program with enormous influence.
“The results of Blue Lantern checks inform decisions on whether to approve licenses for the export of US defense articles,” GAO noted.
The disinterest in Egypt’s record does not specifically result from US support for Egypt’s military leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. GAO noted that State has, since 2008, declined to use optional Blue Lantern outreach programs “intended to facilitate host country cooperation and compliance.”
“According to State officials, the Egyptian government is sensitive to questions that it views as possibly infringing on its sovereignty, including questions about its purchases of U.S. military equipment,” GAO explained.
The US gave Egypt more than $6.5 billion in security assistance in years studied by GAO.
The majority of the money was given through a State Department account and “used to purchase and sustain a wide variety of military systems, including F-16 aircraft, Apache helicopters, and M1A1 tanks,” the watchdog stated.
Egypt has been a close ally of the US since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1978. It was ruled for decades by the authoritarian Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in 2011 after a popular uprising. In 2013, his democratically-elected successor, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi, was ousted in a coup d’etat. Hundreds of his supporters were killed by the Egyptian military in the following weeks.
Of note, State asked GAO to refrain from publicly estimating “the percentage of Egyptian security forces that were not vetted,” calling it “sensitive but unclassified information.” GAO kept the analysis out of its public report.