For decades, the partnership between Egypt and the United States was a linchpin of the American role in the Middle East. Today, it is a mere vestige of a bygone era. There are no longer any compelling reasons for Washington to sustain especially close ties with Cairo. What was once a powerfully symbolic alliance with clear advantages for both sides has become a nakedly transactional relationship—and one that benefits the Egyptians more than the Americans. The time has come for both sides to recognize that reality and for the United States to fundamentally alter its approach to Egypt: downgrading the priority it places on the relationship, reducing the level of economic and military support it offers Cairo, and more closely tying the aid it does deliver to political, military, and economic reforms that would make Egypt a more credible partner.
The contemporary U.S.-Egyptian relationship began in the aftermath of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and was shaped by the logic of the Cold War, with Egypt switching from the Soviet to the American camp in return for various kinds of support. During the quarter century since the end of the Cold War, other factors, such as cooperation in the Middle East peace process and the struggle against jihadist terrorism, provided new rationales for continuing the partnership. But at this point, after a popular uprising followed by an authoritarian relapse in Cairo, and with the peace process moribund and jihadism now a chronic condition, the U.S.-Egyptian relationship has become an anachronism that distorts American policy in the region.
This is not to say that the United States gets nothing out of the relationship. U.S. naval ships enjoy fast-track access to the Suez Canal (albeit with the payment of a hefty premium), and Egypt allows American military aircraft to fly over Egyptian airspace, both of which help Washington project power in the Middle East and manage its military deployments. Egypt also provides some diplomatic support for American regional