Lawmakers ask Biden administration to withhold military aid to Egypt

WASHINGTON – Seven Democratic lawmakers are asking the Biden administration to withhold $300 million in military aid to Egypt until the country improves its human rights record.

The lawmakers, led by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representative Gregory W. Meeks of New York, said in a letter to the State Department that they are concerned “about ongoing human rights abuses developed, widespread and systematic in Egypt. risk destabilizing the country”.

They also note that many political prisoners, including some lawful permanent residents of the United States, are “experienced with abuse and ill-treatment such as torture and medical neglect.”

Lawmakers cited the State Department’s 2021 national reports on Egypt as well as The New York Times articles on human rights abuses in the country. The Times articles described a brutal crackdown on dissidents by Egypt’s military-backed president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom the government has exploited justice system to hold thousands of political prisoners in harsh and often deadly conditions.

The group called on the State Department to withhold the full amount of aid it supposedly earmarked for human rights reform, which for the next year is $300 million. US officials said the State Department is expected to decide soon how much aid it will provide to Egypt.

Egypt has been one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid since becoming the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, its eastern neighbor, in 1979, following the Camp David Accords. America mediates.

Egypt typically receives about $1.3 billion in aid annually from the United States and purchases billions of dollars more in American military equipment each year, though $300 million in aid comes with constraints. Earlier this year, the Biden administration blocked $130 million of that, saying the country would have to demonstrate more progress on human rights, despite lawmakers’ demands to withhold the full amount. . (The same week, it also approved $2.5 billion in military sales to Egypt.)

Even with that reduction, Egypt remains the third largest recipient of US military aid in the world, behind only Ukraine and Israel.

In January, Mr. Meeks and other lawmakers urged the administration to adhere to the criteria they had set for Egypt by September 2021 and continue withholding $130 million in aid for Egypt’s sake. has not significantly improved its human rights situation. Last year’s criteria focused on political prisoners and other rights issues, although they were never made public.

The lawmakers, all of whom are members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent the latest letter to the State Department on Tuesday and plan to make it public on Wednesday. The New York Times obtained a copy of the letter.

Asked at a news conference on Tuesday whether all $300 million would be withheld this year, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said the agency would continue to discuss the matter. with American lawmakers and Egyptian officials. He said the administration has made it clear to Egypt that improving human rights and civil liberties “will ultimately lead to a stronger and stronger bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt.”

He added that Egypt is an “indispensable partner” in the region.

Lawmakers’ push for accountability is the latest instance in which members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to take a stronger stance on human rights in the Middle East. Members of the Senate and House of Representatives recently sent letters to the State Departments and Pentagon asking them to report on how US-made weapons were used by the Saudi-led coalition in the conflict. war in Yemen, where many civilians have been killed.

Over the summer, some lawmakers, including senior Democrats, criticized President Biden for agreeing to travel to Saudi Arabia, where he met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the ruler of Saudi Arabia. de facto kingdom, who presided over continuous domestic repression as well as war. in Yemen. Mr. Biden said during the 2020 presidential campaign that he would consider Saudi Arabia a “bad guy” for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, by Saudi agents. Ut in 2018. US intelligence agencies concluded that they believed that Crown Prince Mohammed ordered the killing.

Mr. Biden’s assertion of ties to autocratic rulers in the Middle East is a notable example of his deviation from a stated pillar of his foreign policy: the support of democratic principles and states abroad.

Senior administration officials say the “democracy against autocracy” model is central to Biden’s thinking, and they say the president has the goal of convening a second Summit soon because Democracy. Many countries attended the first conclave last December, but Egypt was not invited.

Some warn that cutting Egypt’s aid risks ceding influence among Egyptian officials to China and Russia. But those calling for less funding say Egypt often responds to US concerns when they come with the threat of cuts.

Seth Binder, advocacy director for the Middle East Democracy Project, said: “An extra $300 million is unnecessary for Egypt’s security, unnecessary for U.S. security, and undermines credibility. credibility of the United States in Egypt and around the world,” said Seth Binder, advocacy director for the Middle East Democracy Project, a Washington-based group. “If the administration is serious about putting human rights at the center of its foreign policy, this decision is easy.”

As US and international pressure on Egypt over human rights increased last year, Mr el-Sisi’s government advocated a new “human rights strategy”, releasing several hundred political prisoners and arresting initiate dialogue with the opposition to discuss more political openness.

But human rights groups call those steps aesthetic, noting that freedoms are still heavily restricted and that the Egyptian security services continue to make politically motivated arrests, torture, medical neglect in prison, extrajudicial murder and enforced disappearance.

Edward Wong reported from Washington, and Vivian Yee from Cairo.

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