The Biden administration has allowed much of US foreign military aid to Egypt to go ahead, saying the country was vital for US national security interests despite what critics have said about widespread human rights abuses.
Washington has only withheld US$85 million of the aid, which under US law was contingent on Egypt making “clear and consistent progress” in releasing political prisoners, which the United States said Cairo did not fulfil.
That amount withheld is a fraction of the US$1.3 billion a year allocated for Egypt.
The United States has long provided Egypt with large amounts of military and other aid, ever since the Arab world’s most populous nation signed a peace deal with neighbouring Israel in 1979. Cairo has remained a close regional ally of Washington.
The law allows a further US$235 million to be withheld as that portion is also conditioned on Egypt meeting democracy and human rights requirements but US Secretary of State Antony Blinken used his right to waive these conditions, US officials said.
“Egypt’s voice is a crucial one, on so many issues across the region that we’re trying to work together in the spirit of regional peace and security,” said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters on the decision.
The decision did not diminish US commitment to advancing human rights in Egypt, said other US officials, also speaking on the condition of anonymity. Washington has held “tough conversations” with the Egyptians on its human rights track record, the officials said.
But rights groups who have long accused Egypt of widespread abuses under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, including torture and enforced disappearances, said the US decision sends the wrong message.
“The administration is effectively telling Sisi’s government that it saw improvement in the human rights situation over the past year, when in fact things have degenerated significantly,” a consortium of 16 groups that include Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) said in a statement.
“This undermines any efforts by the administration to address human rights concerns in Egypt and will only further embolden al-Sisi, risking further destabilising the country.”
Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat vocal on human rights, in a recent speech criticised the widely expected aid decision, saying that “business as usual” with Egypt would “send a signal to democracy activists that we aren’t serious, that we don’t have their back”.
Sisi helps on stability in Gaza “because it’s in Egypt’s independent national security interest to do so, not because we pay them to do it,” Murphy said.
Sisi had a warm relationship with former US president Donald Trump, who made no pretence of burdening allies with human rights concerns.
Sisi denies there are political prisoners in Egypt. He says stability and security are paramount and authorities are promoting rights by trying to provide basic needs such as jobs and housing.
Political analysts said Western powers are reluctant to take serious action against a strategic ally that has served as a mediator in long-standing issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, and which controls the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most valuable shipping lanes.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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