This week Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s notorious intelligence chief, is visiting Washington to meet with US intelligence officials and several senators.
The upcoming trip coincides with news that Egypt may well have played a key role in the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, after Yahoo News reported that the hit squad stopped off in Cairo to buy the deadly narcotics that were injected into the Saudi dissident’s left arm.
A US intelligence report has said that Khashoggi’s murder was approved by Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, which means a stopover in the Egyptian capital would have been authorised by the Egyptian government.
Abbas Kamel is thought to have been the chief liaison officer between Egypt and Saudi during which time he communicated directly with MBS’s right-hand man, Saud Al-Qahtani, on intelligence.
Kamel met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in the military intelligence, where the two formed a close friendship, rising to become Al-Sisi’s chief of staff when he assumed power in 2014 and then director of the general intelligence.
In his position, Kamel oversaw the constitutional amendments in 2019 which secured Al-Sisi’s position as president until 2030 and has realigned Egypt’s media so that it is effectively run by the country’s security apparatus.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they were trying to arrange a meeting with Kamel to question him about Egypt’s role in the assassination of Khashoggi, but it’s unclear why Egypt’s top intelligence officer is even in Washington in the first place. Why is the Biden administration inviting a man who has overseen the torture of thousands of political prisoners to the US?
In his presidential campaign last year, Joe Biden pledged to get tough on Sisi’s government over its human rights abuses. In July he tweeted that there would be no more blank cheques for Trump’s “favorite dictator”, a promise that was circulated widely by anyone who was keen to see some form of justice for Egyptians.
Mohamed Amashah is finally home after 486 days in Egyptian prison for holding a protest sign. Arresting, torturing, and exiling activists like Sarah Hegazy and Mohamed Soltan or threatening their families is unacceptable. No more blank checks for Trump’s "favorite dictator." https://t.co/RtZkbGh6ik
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 12, 2020
The post came as Al-Sisi disappeared former political prisoner Mohamed Soltan’s dad from the inside of a prison cell as a punitive measure because Soltan filed a lawsuit against former interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi for overseeing the torture he was subjected to whilst in prison.
Biden also reiterated that torturing, exiling, or arresting the family members of activists was completely unacceptable and has vowed to hold Egypt’s rulers accountable for violations.
A year on, the US has made a sharp U-turn. It announced the sale of some $200 million of shipborne surface-to-air missiles to Egypt just days after Soltan’s family members were arrested by the regime.
The Biden administration found a legal loophole to provide El-Beblawi with immunity and also plans to send $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt, with no human rights conditions, completely undermining the American president’s pledge to build its relationship with Egypt based on human rights.
This week in Egypt alone, eight people were executed, a political asylee in Chicago whose family have been kidnapped in Egypt had new charges brought against him, an engineering technician who served in the cabinet of the late President Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death and a student was sentenced to four years in prison.
As Israel pummelled the Gaza Strip with air strikes in May, observers speculated that Egypt’s attempts at mediation were in fact an attempt to grab Biden’s attention. It worked. Al-Sisi played a role in securing the Israel-Palestine ceasefire and in return received two phone calls from the US President Joe Biden.
Having previously held back due to human rights issues, Biden thanked Egypt for its successful diplomacy and coordination with the US to end the recent hostilities. The two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to a strong and productive US-Egypt partnership.
Egypt has long sold itself to the West on the warning that it is a key pillar to stability in the region, which Biden now appears to have brought into. However, this completely disregards Cairo’s own role in the blockade on Gaza and that its own scorched earth policy is in fact a key driver of instability.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.