US senator blocks Egypt military funding over rights concerns

Senate foreign relations committee chairman Ben Cardin says Cairo should meet criteria for military financing

Senator Ben Cardin assumed chairmanship of the Senate foreign relations committee on September 28.  AP
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Ben Cardin, the new chairman of the powerful US Senate foreign relations committee, said on Tuesday that he was blocking military financing to Egypt over human rights concerns.

Mr Cardin took over as chairman last month as Senator Bob Menendez stepped down after he was charged in a federal corruption probe for allegedly taking bribes to benefit Cairo and three Egyptian businessmen.

Mr Menendez has denied the charges against him.

“I believe it is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations,” Mr Cardin said in a statement.

“I intend to exercise fully the committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to hold foreign military funds and the sale of arms to the government of Egypt, if it does not take concrete, meaningful and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in the country.”

Mr Cardin said the committee demands that Egypt introduces pre-trial detention reforms and releases political prisoners.

The committee also wants Egypt to ensure freedoms for human rights defenders, journalists and opposition groups.

A long-time human rights advocate, Mr Cardin said he had shared his concerns with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“My hold on current funds will remain until specific human rights progress is made,” he said.

Foreign military funding to the US ally has been a contentious issue under President Joe Biden's administration, as Congress and non-government groups have expressed human rights concerns with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's leadership.

Nevertheless, some military sales have been approved.

Mr Menendez has asserted that he held Egypt accountable while on the Senate foreign relations committee.

“If you look at my actions related to Egypt during the period described in this indictment, and throughout my whole career, my record is clear and consistent,” he said.

But federal prosecutors say Mr Menendez ghost-wrote a letter for Egypt to send to his Senate colleagues urging them to release a hold of $300 million in US aid to the country.

Prosecutors also say he met Egyptian military and intelligence officials.

Updated: October 03, 2023, 11:43 PM