The US State Department approved a sale of $2.3 billion worth of equipment to refurbish 43 of Egypt’s Apache helicopters on Thursday, specifically citing Cairo’s fight against Islamic State insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula as among the two countries' mutual interests. The State Department previously greenlit the sale of 10 Apaches to Egypt in November 2018.
Why it matters: Egypt’s government has been battling an insurgency focused in North Sinai that has grown since 2011. The most prominent insurgent group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, declared loyalty to the Islamic State in 2014. The fighters have killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians, most notably in the al-Rawda Mosque massacre in November 2017. Egypt’s military launched Comprehensive Operation Sinai in February 2018, and the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi frequently touts by citing growing body counts. Rights groups say the campaign has led to widespread abuses against the local population and has forced thousands of North Sinai residents to leave their homes.
The sale approval comes just two days after Egypt released American political prisoner Reem Mohamed Desouky, who was jailed last July for allegedly sharing social media posts critical of Sisi’s government. The State Department reportedly considered slashing aid to Egypt after another US citizen died in an Egyptian prison in January. The Donald Trump administration has not bowed to pressure from Congress to sanction Egyptian officials over the incident, even as at least five more US citizens remain in Egyptian prisons.
What’s next: Egypt’s Sinai insurgency shows no sign of abating, as fighters have stepped up their attacks against Cairo’s forces in recent weeks.
Know more: Read the latest on how the Sinai insurgents are exploiting Ramadan to hit Egypt’s soldiers when they are least prepared.
Correction: May 11, 2020. An older version of this article incorrectly stated that the State Department had approved the sale of 43 Apache helicopters, rather it approved the sale of equipment to refurbish Egypt's existing fleet.