The U.S. decision to send Egypt 20 Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets as the new Islamic president in Cairo is making dictatorial moves will fuel growing criticism in the United States and Europe of arming regimes that shun democracy.
The fighter planes, the first four of which are due for delivery Jan. 22, are part of a 2010 $1 billion foreign aid package, pre-dating the February 2011 downfall of President Hosni Mubarak, a pivotal U.S. ally in the Middle East.
The $213 million F-16 order, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, will provide a major upgrade of the Egyptian air force’s striking power, spearheaded by nearly 200 older F-16s.
As such it will be seen as a significant gesture of U.S. support for Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first Islamic president.
In recent days Morsi has sought to give himself sweeping powers that cannot be challenged by Parliament or Egypt’s judicial system. That triggered violent protests in Cairo.
The announcement the F-16 delivery program will begin as scheduled in 2013 despite the upheaval in Egypt, and what many see as Morsi’s dictatorial inclinations, has underlined a growing alarm about Western military support for undemocratic regimes.
“The Obama administration wants to simply throw money at an Egyptian government that the president cannot even clearly state is an ally of the United States,” declared U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
The U.S. administration of President Barack Obama is desperate to retain as much influence as possible over Egypt and other Arab states that have overthrown autocratic rulers since the pro-democracy uprisings of the so-called Arab Spring erupted in January 2011 and continues nearly two years later.
It also needs to provide orders for the U.S. defense industry, which in these days of deep cuts in military spending is increasingly dependent on foreign sales to maintain production lines.
This is also true for Europe’s arms industries, particularly those in Britain, France, Germany and Italy.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has in recent months come under criticism for backing arms sales to undemocratic states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
The oil-rich region, which was effectively ruled by Britain until 1971, has been the mainstay of the United Kingdom’s arms industry ever since and it’s also vital for U.S. arms exports as well.
British lawmakers have incensed gulf monarchies in recent months by their denunciation of human rights abuses in those states, leaving Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal coalition facing the prospect of dwindling arms sales and a serious drop in oil contracts as well.
Cameron and a high-powered delegation of ministers and defense chiefs flew to the gulf to sweet talk the Saudis and their partners, urging the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Oman to buy 100 Typhoon jets, worth $9.6 billion, built by BAE systems, Britain’s biggest defense conglomerate, and its European partners.
They got a chilly reception and no confirmed orders but then neither did France’s new president, Francois Hollande, who’d gone there a few weeks earlier on the same mission.
“On the nauseating political doublespeak scale, David Cameron’s claim to ‘support the Arab Spring’ on a trip to sell weapons to gulf dictators … hit a new low,” said commentator Seumas Milne in Britain’s liberal The Guardian daily, a fierce critic of the arms trade.
“No stern demands for free elections from the autocrats of Arabia — or call for respect for human rights routinely dished out even to major powers like Russia and China.”
Milne declared that arms sales in the gulf are “effectively a mafia-style protection racket, in which gulf regimes use oil wealth their families have commandeered to buy equipment from Western firms that they will never use …
“But support for the gulf dictatorships — colonial-era feudal confections built on heavily exploited foreign workforces — is central to Western control of the Middle East and its energy resources.”
Recent U.K. government figures show London is owed hundreds of millions of dollars for loans to dictatorships in Argentina, Indonesia, Iraq and Zimbabwe for British weapons used against their own people protesting regime excesses.