WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden government is releasing nearly $ 200 million in military aid to Egypt but will withhold millions more over human rights concerns, the State Department said Tuesday in an announcement that was quickly criticized by human rights groups and some lawmakers.
The ministry said Secretary of State Antony Blinken would withhold $ 130 million of $ 300 million in military funding for Egypt due to concerns. It was said he would let the rest go in order to maintain the US-Egypt security engagement that Washington believes is critical to stability in the Middle East.
The US $ 170 million to be released will be transferred with the authority of the government to waive the human rights conditions that Congress imposes on support. According to federal law, the foreign minister must confirm that Egypt meets these conditions or issue a waiver for the sending of aid.
The department said Blinken was unable to confirm compliance, but added that continued cooperation with Egypt was a major US national security concern. The decision has been criticized by human rights groups and some lawmakers as an indication that the Biden government is breaking its pledges to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy.
“As we continue to discuss our serious human rights concerns in Egypt, the Foreign Minister will not confirm that the Egyptian government is taking sustained and effective steps in relation to human rights law” about the aid the ministry said.
Nonetheless, she said the government would provide most of the support for border security, non-proliferation and counter-terrorism programs and withhold the remaining $ 130 million. The withheld amount will be released “if the government of Egypt affirms certain human rights-related conditions,” the ministry said.
Awaiting criticism of the announcement made to some lawmakers on Monday, the State Department said that the government’s human rights concerns about Egypt, still affected by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown on dissenting opinions, are significant.
However, it is important to maintain positive relations with Sisi’s government, pointing out that the new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett did not visit Egypt until Monday. Egypt is one of only two Arab nations that went to war with Israel to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
“Our bilateral relations with Egypt are strengthening and America’s interests are better served by continuing to advocate our national security interests, including addressing our human rights concerns,” the State Department said.
Under Sissi, Egypt experienced the toughest crackdown on dissent in its modern history. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents, but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. In order to keep the government’s critics behind bars for as long as possible, long pre-trial detention is the order of the day.
Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a strong supporter of President Joe Biden who has repeatedly called for human rights conditions for foreign aid to be established and enforced, lamented the decision. He called it “a great missed opportunity to stand up and stand up for human rights.”
“Continuing our security relationship with Egypt with only minor changes sends the wrong message,” Murphy said in a statement. “This was an opportunity to send a strong message about America’s commitment to human rights and democracy at a low cost to our security, and we missed it.”
A group of 19 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, also condemned the decision, calling it “a terrible blow to their professed commitment to human rights and the rule of law”.
“This government has repeatedly vowed to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy, and particularly its relations with Egypt,” they said. “However, this decision is a betrayal of these obligations.”