US senator blocks $75m military aid to Egypt over 'deplorable' human rights record
A senior Democratic US senator has blocked an additional $75m in American military aid to Egypt over concerns about the country’s human rights record.
Cairo receives around $1.3bn annually in military aid from the United States. While much of that figure has no restrictions, some of it is subject to conditions based on a law passed by Congress last year.
In September, the US State Department withheld $130m in military aid over broad human rights concerns.
At the time, it said it would allow another $75m to be paid, citing progress by Egypt’s government on political prisoners and due process, including the release of 500 political detainees this year.
However on Monday, Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told Reuters he had rejected the State Department’s assessment justifying the aid.
The committee has jurisdiction over spending legislation, including US assistance to Egypt.
"We should take this law very seriously, because the situation facing political prisoners in Egypt is deplorable," Leahy said in a statement.
"We can't give short shrift to the law because of other policy considerations. We all have a responsibility to uphold the law and to defend the due process rights of the accused, whether here or in Egypt," Leahy said.
60,000 political prisoners
The conditions set by Congress last year require Egypt to make “clear and consistent progress” in freeing political prisoners and providing those detained with due process of law.
Talks between Leah’s office and the State Department were unable to resolve the issue, with the $75m in funding expiring on 30 September.
There has been ongoing unease in Washington over President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's treatment of political opponents since coming to power in a military coup in 2013. Rights groups estimate that Egypt holds about 60,000 political prisoners.
Hundreds of prisoners have died in custody, with rights groups saying that medical negligence and poor conditions have caused numerous deaths.
Sisi has consistently denied there are political prisoners in the country, and has instead framed the crackdown as part of a fight against terrorism.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt is considered to be the world's third-worst jailer of journalists, behind China and Turkey.