West News Wire: Democratic legislators said that Cairo had fallen short of US-set standards for human rights and urged the Biden administration not to release a portion of Egypt’s nearly $1.3 billion in yearly military funding.
Eleven members of Congress, including Gregory Meeks, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, requested in a letter made public on Thursday that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refrain from certifying that Egypt has taken “sustained and effective steps” to address human rights concerns. If he did so, military aid to the US security partner would not be given to Egypt.
Congress has made $320m of the aid Egypt receives contingent on President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi improving the country’s human rights record. $235m of that is tied to Egypt enhancing the rule of law and protecting minorities in the country, though the Biden administration can release the funds if it issues a waiver saying it is in the US national security interest.
In their letter, the lawmakers cited a State Department 2022 report that noted “significant human rights violations” committed by the Egyptian government such as enforced disappearances, torture and life-threatening prison conditions, and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly.
They emphasised that the US government report acknowledged that 52 prisoners and detainees died “as a result of abuse” while in government detention.
Notably, $85 million in military aid from Egypt is contingent on Cairo freeing political prisoners and ceasing its intimidation and retaliation against Americans. The FBI’s arrest of a guy for allegedly spying on Cairo’s opponents in the US in January 2022 raised questions about Egypt’s surveillance of American citizens.
In order to bolster their claim, the MPs brought up the fact that “Egypt continues to engage in transnational repression beyond its borders against family members and relatives of dissidents and activists.”
In a letter sent to the President Joe Biden’s administration at the end of July, nearly two dozen other rights organisations urged Washington to halt $320 million in military aid to Egypt because Cairo had not complied with US-imposed standards for human rights. Second only to Israel in terms of US military assistance recipients is Egypt.
Egypt has served as the cornerstone of Washington’s Middle East security strategy for almost 50 years. The security cooperation has persisted despite Cairo losing most of its influence in the Arab world to Gulf nations. Egypt, the most populous nation in the Arab world, has emerged as a new arena for rivalry with China and Russia.
And despite calls for aid cuts from members of the president’s own party, the Biden administration has continued to reward Cairo with arms shipments. The White House must decide whether to release this year’s tranche of military funding by September.
Only $130 million in military aid to Egypt was delayed by the US in 2021 and 2022 due to concerns about human rights; nonetheless, the US approved a $2.5 billion arms sale to Egypt last year.
Since he overthrew his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup in July 2013, President Sisi has conducted a ruthless assault on opposition. Since then, more than 65,000 individuals have been imprisoned, including activists and politicians.
Sisi recently took action to free some detainees.
He released from prison Patrick Zaki, a rights researcher, and Mohammed al-Baqer, an attorney.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken praised the men’s release in a phone call last week. According to a representative for the State Department, it “underscored that progress on human rights would enable the strongest possible US-Egypt partnership”.
The week after the call, the Egyptian government said it released 33 prisoners being held in pretrial detention.
However, rights experts previously told MEE that the apparent attempts to ease the crackdown on civil society have come at the same time that the Sisi government has conducted further arrests and the targeting of critics.
“Though Egypt has released certain detainees, thousands of others remain detained, many without any avenue to judicial appeal or access to legal counsel or family visits,” the lawmakers said.