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Egypt: Rights groups unimpressed with Biden's new conditions on aid

US president attaches conditions on part of aid to Cairo after growing concerns over human rights abuses
US President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Long Beach Airport in California on 13 September 2021 (AFP)

The decision by US President Joe Biden to renew security aid to Egypt has provoked anger from rights groups, who have said that conditions attached to the donations do not go far enough in addressing the Egyptian government's abuses.

In a statement on Monday, US officials said new conditions would affect a share of the $1.3bn in American aid that is sent to Egypt each year.

After what was described in the Washington Post as "lengthy deliberations", US State Department officials and congressional aids said the government would be providing $170m to Egypt for counterterrorism, border security and nonproliferation.

They said an additional $130m would be provided, on condition that the Egyptian government end its harassment and repression of human rights organisations in the country and drop charges against or release 16 individuals who the US government had highlighted in discussion with Egypt since June.

“If they complete the human rights criteria that we laid out for the Egyptians, they also get the $130m," said one official, speaking to the Washington Post.

Biden had in the past been critical of former President Donald Trump's support to Cairo, saying that under his watch there would be "no more blank checks for Trump’s favourite dictator".

'Dismaying' report

However, Monday's report - which precedes any official announcement on the topic from the government - has been greeted with dismay from a number of rights organisations.

Since coming to power in the wake of a 2013 coup, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been accused of widespread human rights abuses and a crackdown on the opposition.

In 2014, the US Congress began imposing human rights conditions on $300m of the military aid to Egypt, but former presidents Barack Obama and Trump both issued national security waivers to bypass the restrictions.

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In a statement on Monday, a number of groups - including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), MENA Rights Group and the Egyptian Human Rights Forum - said the news was "dismaying" and called for more to be done.

"If the administration’s dedication to human rights were sincere, this decision would have been simple: withhold the $300 million in military aid as conditioned by Congress to incentivise Sisi to change course," read the statement.

"Instead, the administration chose to ignore its commitment to human rights by evading the legislative conditions through a vague, previously unused provision in the law.

"Given the appalling scale of abuses committed since 2013 by the Egyptian government, one of the largest recipients of US military aid, it is imperative that congressional conditions on foreign military funding be enforced to end the impunity around these systematic abuses."

In a statement to Middle East Eye, the US State Department cited Egypt's introduction of a new "national human rights strategy" on 11 September and the importance of the country to counterterrorism as justification for the move.

"The President and Egyptian President Sisi share a commitment to a strong and productive US-Egypt partnership," read the statement.

"The Biden-Harris Administration supports further strengthening the bilateral relationship between the United States and Egypt alongside tangible and lasting improvements in human rights.  Our approach reflects both our values and our interests."

In 2017, the Trump administration withheld some aid to Egypt, but released it the following year.

Egypt has been a key US ally in the Middle East since the 1970s, having received tens of billions of dollar in military and economic aid since then.