US Congress urges Biden to withhold Egypt aid over human rights

Democrats mount pressure on White House to hold key ally accountable

Egyptian protestors rally in support of an Egyptian lawyer sentenced to five years in prison on charges rights advocates have decried as politically motivated. AP
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Democrat officials have sent a letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Biden administration to withhold $300 million in military aid to Egypt until it fully meets human rights requirements outlined in the annual appropriations bill.

The US provides about $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt annually, with a portion reliant on it meeting certain human rights conditions.

"We remain concerned by continued reports — both by the State Department as well as credible international and Egyptian organisations — about the ongoing, pervasive, and systemic violations of human rights in Egypt that risk destabilising the country,” the letter said.

The letter, signed by seven Democrats spearheaded by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks, conceded Cairo remains an important regional ally, but urged the administration's to enforce human rights standards.

"Egypt’s important role extends to more recent years in the fight against Al Qaeda, ISIS and their affiliates, as well as facilitator and mediator with the Israeli government and Palestinian groups in achieving an end to recent fighting in Gaza," it said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi played a key role in securing the May 21 ceasefire that brought the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to an end.

Additionally, Egypt has been involved in brokering agreements with Jordan and Iraq aimed at broadening and deepening cooperation.

"The Egyptian government released some political prisoners and launched certain initiatives aimed at improving the human rights situation inside the country," the Congressional letter said. "It has failed to take 'sustained and effective steps' required by statute."

In its 2021 Country Report on Human Rights, President Biden's administration listed a slew of "significant human rights issues", including "credible reports" of unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance by state security, torture and arbitrary detentions.

US President Joe Biden, right. and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meet in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 16, 2022. AFP

But the White House has faced increasing pressure from Congressional leaders and rights groups who have said it has not taken a strong enough stance against those human rights concerns.

In the Senate on Tuesday, Senator Chris Murphy called attention to the issue of political prisoners. He highlighted his constituent, Muhammad Amasha, a PhD student at Yale University, whose father is one of 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt.

“If you're going to be an ally of the United States, you shouldn't be locking people up for political speech," Mr Murphy said.

Twenty human rights organisations signed a letter to Blinken and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Jake Sullivan in August which also argued Cairo has failed "to meet the congressionally mandated human rights conditions".

In January the US government held back $130m in military financing until the Egyptian government dropped charges against 16 citizens charged in politically motivated cases.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Updated: September 14, 2022, 4:39 PM
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