The United States approves $235 million in aid to Egypt, putting security before rights | ET REALITY

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Prioritizing US national security interests over human rights, the Biden administration approved $235 million in military aid to Egypt that it had withheld for the past two years due to the country’s repressive policies.

The decision means the United States will retain only a small fraction ($85 million) of the $1.3 billion in military aid allocated annually to Egypt. It also reflects a decision by Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other administration officials that the United States’ relationship with the region’s most populous country is too important to risk fracturing, despite calls for human rights activists for Washington to take a much harder line.

Explaining the decision Thursday, State Department officials said the United States continued to have serious concerns about human rights in Egypt, which has been ruled by a repressive military government for a decade.

Officials insisted that the approval of the $235 million does not reflect a diminished emphasis by the Biden administration on human rights. They noted that Blinken raised the cases of political prisoners and other abuses with Egyptian leaders during a visit to Cairo in January and will continue to press those issues.

But they admitted that Blinken had issued a waiver to release the previously withheld money because he concluded that U.S. national security interests outweigh the benchmarks set by Congress for Egyptian progress on human rights.

As an example of Egypt’s contributions to American national security, a senior State Department official cited a joint U.S.-Egyptian military exercise, Bright Star 2023, that took place over the past two weeks. the us army described The exercise focused on “counterterrorism, regional security and efforts to combat the spread of violent extremism.”

The officials also highlighted Egypt’s role in trying to mediate a ceasefire in Sudan’s civil conflict and support for elections in Libya.

Blinken drew a line in refusing to approve an $85 million tranche of aid that Congress has tied to Egypt’s record in freeing political prisoners, preventing harassment of U.S. citizens and providing due process to detainees. That amounts to a cut of about 6.5 percent in military aid to Egypt for the next fiscal year.

Mai El-Sadany, executive director of the Washington-based Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said the Biden administration’s decision to withhold $85 million in aid to Egypt was welcome but did not go far enough.

“What we are seeing in Egypt is far from significant progress on human rights,” he said. “Failing to condition the full amount allowed by law will provide cover for the Egyptian authorities, which they will use as a weapon to justify and intensify this continued repression just months before the scheduled presidential elections.”

The decision is also sure to frustrate many Washington lawmakers who have been pushing for a tougher stance on human rights issues.

On August 10, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and 10 other committee members sent a letter to Mr. Blinken urging that Egypt be denied any conditions-based foreign military funding.

The letter cited reports of “persistent and ongoing systemic violations of human rights in Egypt,” including the detention and abuse of thousands of “journalists, peaceful civil society activists, human rights defenders and political figures.”

Lawmakers urged Blinken to withhold the $235 million and $85 million tranches of conditional military aid ($320 million total) “until Egypt’s human rights record improves significantly.” (The remaining $980 million in annual US military aid is not subject to human rights conditions.)

There are few signs of that happening anytime soon.

With its popularity sinking amid a deep economic crisis, the Egyptian government has made some nominal gestures toward greater political inclusion. Egypt formed a presidential pardon committee last year to oversee the release of hundreds of political prisoners and began a “national dialogue” with political opponents and some activists to discuss a new direction for the country. It has also freed several high-profile dissidents in recent months, including Ahmed Douma, a leading face of Egypt’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution, and Mohamed el-Baqer, a human rights lawyer.

But authorities continue to arrest people for alleged opposition to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government, including, in recent weeks, some who had been freed years ago and others whose only crime appeared to be being closely associated with known dissidents. . Human rights groups say Egypt is arresting three people for every prisoner that is released.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a leading human rights group, announced Thursday that it would withdraw from the dialogue, at least temporarily, after Mohamed Zahran, founder of Egypt’s teachers union that had participated in the dialogue, was detained. at the end of August.

The human rights crisis in Egypt, the group said in a statement, had “reached unprecedented levels.”

After the State Department’s announcement, Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., called the decision “a missed opportunity to show the world that our commitment to advancing human rights and democracy is more than an issue of conversation”.

Eduardo Wong contributed reporting from Washington.

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