In the desert that lies between Sheikh Zowaid and Rafah in northern Sinai a local Bedouin hired as a mercenary for the Egyptian army shoots an unarmed man with five bullets to the head. Another victim is forced to his knees before being shot in the chest and head.
These brutal killings were caught on video, along with the bodies of other men who appear to have suffered the same fate. A 17-year-old child is among the dead. The footage was leaked on 20 April and broadcast on the opposition TV station Mekameleen before being picked up by media across the world.
Despite several days of speculation over the authenticity of the video Amnesty International has now confirmed that the Egyptian military is responsible. A video posted on a pro-government site at the end of last year shows the same bodies lined up with six soldiers next to them – “this is revenge for those who died”, a soldier says.
Amnesty’s analysis also shows that arms had been planted near the bodies to make it appear as though they had been killed in a gunfight. Another detail focuses on the Humvee vehicles the men are held in before being executed: they are American-made.
Whenever a grave human rights incident occurs in Egypt – one that stands above the continual stream of systematic torture and arbitrary detentions that take place on a daily basis – a debate emerges about the ethics of the military aid America sends to Egypt as the US is one of the North African country’s main suppliers of equipment. But if the debate inspires change, it is always short lived.
In October 2013, two months after the Rabaa massacre that killed over 1,000 people, a portion of this aid was suspended. But by April 2014 Washington had released 10 Apache helicopters and $650 million of military aid to Egypt. Constantly failing to hold Egypt to account by giving the message that its business as usual breeds the kind of impunity that makes a military officer think it’s ok to execute seven men without fear of being charged.
US law prohibits funding units that violate human rights, as has been pointed out time and time again. Organisations have noted out that there are deficiencies in this monitoring but it is more than this – monitoring must be either non-existent or the military aid is being given blindly – because there is a mountain of evidence that violations take place in the country.
In North Sinai, Daesh’s Egypt affiliate Wilayat Sinai has targeted police, army, the Christian community and those they suspect of being collaborators. In return the Egyptian army has conducted arbitrary arrests, forcibly disappeared people, imposed curfews, closed roads and denied access to media and independent observers. People across the country fear both Daesh and the government.
On 25 April a panel of experts told Congress what they already know, but are choosing to ignore: that Egypt is a floundering authoritarian state and that they should rethink their $1.5 billion aid package. Not only did the experts raise concerns that the country is being run by the military but they pointed out that Egypt has lost its regional influence, ultimately making the military assistance counterproductive.
Military aid flows to Egypt to cement mutual cooperation on counter-terrorism and national security interests, but much of the equipment Egypt is buying is ineffective in fighting Daesh. On top of this, not only is Egypt’s policy of torture and destruction driving some people towards terrorism – former detainees have said Daesh recruits within prisons – but Egypt have failed to stop Daesh in the rest of the region. Atrocities are being carried out across the Middle East in its name on a daily basis.
In 2011 protesters studying empty tear gas canisters used by troops in Tahrir Square found the label “made in USA” written across the cans – they had been supplied to the interior ministry by the US company Combined Systems Inc (CSI), a company that has also sold tear gas to Israeli police and former Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s regime.
In 2015 Daesh built up a substantial amount of arsenal from US-made weapons previously given and sold to the Iraqi government and abandoned when Iraqi troops fled Mosul. It was this same weaponry that helped the terror group capture Mosul, Tikrit and Fallujah – operations in which thousands of civilians were killed.
It’s time for the US to rethink their support for Egypt, before another tragedy occurs.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.