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US to block $130m in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns: Report

Decision comes just days after the Biden administration approved a $2.5bn weapons and equipment sale to Cairo
Rights groups estimate that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government holds about 60,000 political prisoners.
Rights groups estimate Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government holds about 60,000 political prisoners (AFP/File photo)

The Biden administration is set to block $130m in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, three sources familiar with the decision told the Reuters news agency.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in September that the aid would be withheld if Egypt did not address specific human-rights related conditions.

One source told Reuters that members of Congress had been briefed on the administration's decision to withhold the aid, which accounts for 10 percent of the $1.3bn that Egypt is still expected to receive from Washington this year.

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There are no plans to withhold the rest of that aid, the source said.

A senior State Department official told CNN that the "last place that needs $130 million is Egypt", adding that the money would now be allotted to other countries.

US Senator Chris Murphy, an outspoken critic of the Egyptian government, welcomed the decision, saying President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had failed to meet the administration's "narrow and wholly achievable human rights conditions".

"It sends the important message abroad that we will back up our commitment to human rights with action, and gone are the days where dictators receive blank checks from America," Murphy said in a statement.

The State Department told Middle East Eye that Blinken had "yet to make a decision", adding it had "no further updates at this time on the status of this funding".

'Slap on the wrist'

Earlier this week, the Working Group on Egypt, a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts, warned that releasing the aid if conditions were not met would essentially "reward authoritarianism".

"We urge the administration to stand firm, for the sake of Egyptians suffering under the regime's repression and of U.S. credibility as a champion of democratic values everywhere," the group wrote.

Friday's decision, if confirmed, would be largely largely symbolic, human rights activists argue. The amount withheld is dwarfed by the $2.5bn sale of weapons and equipment to Egypt authorised by the Biden administration earlier this week.

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"Denying the Sisi government a paltry $130 million is a bit of a crude shell game after the Biden administration's approval of $2.5 billion in weapons sales earlier this week," said John Hursh, Program Director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).

"That the Egyptian government could not meet even the watered-down human rights conditions to release 16 political prisoners is just one reason for why the U.S. government has no business sending one cent of weapons to its brutal dictatorship."

There has been ongoing unease in Washington over Sisi's treatment of political opponents, with rights groups estimating that Egypt holds about 60,000 political prisoners.

Sisi has consistently denied there are political prisoners in Egypt, 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.

Many prisoners continue to languish in abusive conditions. On Monday, MEE obtained graphic footage showing the apparent abuse and torture of inmates at a Cairo prison.