Skip to main content

Democrats in Congress urge US to withhold military aid to Egypt

President Biden has kept military aid to Egypt flowing and approved billion dollar arms sales despite criticism from some lawmakers in his party
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and US President Joe Biden at a meeting on sidelines of the Cop27 summit, in Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh, on 11 November 2022 (AFP)

A group of Democratic lawmakers urged the Biden administration not to release part of Egypt’s roughly $1.3bn in annual military aid, saying that Cairo has failed to meet human rights benchmarks set by the US.

In a letter released Thursday, eleven congressional Democrats, including Gregory Meeks, ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken not to certify that Egypt has taken “sustained and effective steps” to address human rights concerns, a move that would prevent the disbursement of military aid to the US security partner. 

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.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


Notably, $85m worth of Egypt’s military aid is conditioned on Cairo releasing political prisoners and stopping the intimidation and harassment of Americans. Concerns over Egypt's surveillance of American citizens came to the fore in January 2022, when the FBI arrested a man for allegedly spying on Cairo's opponents in the US. 

The lawmakers raised the case to support their argument, saying: “Egypt continues to engage in transnational repression beyond its borders against family members and relatives of dissidents and activists.”

In late July, nearly two dozen rights groups also issued a letter to the Joe Biden administration, urging Washington to withhold $320m in military aid to Egypt, saying that Cairo has failed to meet human rights benchmarks set by the US.

Biden keeps Cairo's aid flowing

Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US military aid, trailing only behind Israel.

For nearly five decades, Washington has viewed Egypt as the linchpin in its Middle East security framework. Despite Cairo losing much of its clout in the Arab world to Gulf powers, the security relationship has endured. Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, has become a new theatre of competition with Russia and China. 

And the Biden administration has continued to reward Cairo with arms sales, even as members of the president's own party call for aid cuts. The White House has until September to make a decision on releasing this year's batch of military aid. 

'We fell short,' Democrats mildly criticise decision to freeze some military aid to Egypt
Read More »

In 2021 and 2022, the US withheld just $130m in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, and last year, the US approved an arms sale to Egypt valued at about $2.5bn.

President Sisi has led a brutal crackdown on dissent since he toppled his democratically elected predecessor, Mohamed Morsi, in a coup in July 2013. More than 65,000 people, including activists and politicians, have been jailed since.

Recently, Sisi has moved to release some prisoners.

In July, he pardoned detained rights researcher Patrick Zaki and lawyer Mohammed al-Baqer.

In a call last week, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken welcomed the men’s release. A State Department spokesperson said 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.

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.