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Amnesty warns US against waiving restrictions on military aid to Egypt

Rights group warns the Biden administration risks complicity in rights abuses
At least 60,000 political prisoners, detained as part of Sisi's crackdown, are still languishing in jails, according to Human Rights Watch.
At least 60,000 political prisoners, detained as part of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's crackdown, are languishing in jails, according to Human Rights Watch (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Amnesty International has warned the US against waiving restrictions on military aid to Egypt, saying it puts Washington at risk of becoming complicit in Cairo's human rights abuses.

Philippe Nassif, Amnesty's advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Monday that "unconditionally backing Egypt's security forces contradicts President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken's stated commitments to centre human rights." 

"Waiving the congressionally-imposed restriction would provide a green light for President Sisi's increasing crackdowns on Egyptians and further implicates the US in abhorrent human rights abuses."

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According to Amnesty, at the beginning of August, a video posted by the Egyptian military showed soldiers shooting a man dead at close range in a tent whilst he was asleep, and another showed an unarmed man being shot dead from above as he ran through the desert.

Amnesty said the weapons used in the video were US-made and that the arms are used to flout human rights, calling on Washington to forgo the waiver and further halt arms sales.

Egypt is currently the second-largest recipient of US military aid, receiving $1.3bn each year from Washington. Since 1978, the US has provided Cairo with $50bn in military assistance.

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

Blinken has until the end of September to decide on whether to continue with the aid or not.

'Egypt has legitimate security concerns'

Since Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi seized power in 2013, hundreds of journalists, activists, lawyers, and intellectuals have been arrested.

At least 60,000 political prisoners, detained as part of Sisi's crackdown, are still languishing in jails, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In 2020, the number of executions in Egypt tripled from the year before, making the country the third-most prolific executioner after China and Iran.

Prior to being elected, US President Joe Biden pledged that there would be no more blank cheques for Sisi. However, since then, he approved $200m in arms sales around the same time news emerged that Egyptian-American activist Mohamed Soltan's family members were arrested by Egyptian authorities.

A number of US members of Congress have urged the Biden administration to halt its assistance in order to send a message to Cairo regarding its rights abuses, including a group of House Democrats who advocated for a $75m cut in military aid to Egypt that cannot be waived over national security reasons.

Still, the administration has made clear that it sees the aid to Egypt as critical to supporting the country's security.

In a Senate hearing earlier this month, Dana Stroul, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East, praised Cairo for its "constructive role" in regional security.

"We also believe and support that Egypt has legitimate security concerns and believe that security assistance to Egypt is a critical tool in supporting those needs," Stroul said after noting the administration has raised the issue of human rights with the country.