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Democrats urge Biden not to reward 'authoritarianism' and hold $130m in Egypt aid

Six members of Congress urge the White House to reprogramme frozen aid and say Egypt is 'failing to comply' with human rights benchmarks
The letter was led by Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The letter was led by Gregory Meeks, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (AFP/File photo)
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Washington

Several Democratic members of US Congress have urged the Biden administration to reprogramme $130m in aid to Egypt that was withheld last year, unless Cairo clearly meets certain human rights conditions.

"We emphasize our expectation that the Administration will reprogram the portion of military aid withheld last year if Egypt fails to comply with the full set of specific human rights benchmarks communicated by the State Department to the Egyptian government," six lawmakers said in a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"Making clear to Egypt and the world the United States will stand by its commitment to democratic rights and basic freedoms – and adhering to statute – is critical to addressing those very problems."

The letter was led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Gregory Meeks and comes ahead of what the experts believe to be a 30 January deadline for the aid's release.

In September, the US withheld $130m in military assistance to Egypt, called Foreign Military Financing or FMF, about a tenth of the total $1.3bn that Washington sends to Cairo each year.

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The Biden administration said it would only release the funds if the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi delivered on a set of human rights demands.

Those conditions, according to The Washington Post, are ending the detention of 16 Egyptians politically targeted by Cairo, and ending Case 173 of 2011, a politically motivated case in which 43 foreign and domestic NGO employees were sent to prison and a number of civil society groups, including Freedom House, were shut down.

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

In 2014, Congress began to impose human rights conditions on $300m of the military aid. However, former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump bypassed the restrictions with national security waivers until Biden put a hold on a portion of the $300m.

Democratic Senator Chris Murphy also spoke out on the aid, saying that "Egypt looks unlikely and unwilling to meet the narrow conditions" placed by the Biden administration.

"The Biden administration still has an opportunity to correct course here," Murphy said in a statement on Tuesday.

"If Egypt doesn't meet the conditions in full, the administration has to stand firm and show the world that our actions live up to our stated commitment to democracy and human rights."

Releasing funds would 'reward authoritarianism'

In a separate letter sent to Blinken on Monday, a group of foreign policy experts noted that in the four months since the aid was withheld, Egypt had only released "a very small number" of Egyptians who are possibly among the 16 individuals highlighted by the US administration.

"We believe that these minimal actions are the result of US pressure. Yet they are far from sufficient: al-Sisi's regime has not come close to meeting the administration’s conditions, despite a generous timeline," the experts said.

"Instead it appears that the regime is playing a game, betting that it does not need to do anything more because the Biden administration simply will backtrack on the conditions and release the FMF."

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Since coming to power in the wake of a 2013 coup, Sisi has led a brutal suppression of dissent, jailing more than 60,000 activists and imposing strict censorship measures on public discourse.

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, Middle East Eye obtained graphic footage showing the apparent abuse and torture of inmates at a Cairo prison.

"For all these reasons, we believe that releasing this $130 million in FMF without Egypt having fully met the attached conditions would be a mistake," the experts said in their letter.

"Such a decision would, in effect, reward authoritarianism. It would reveal that the administration is not serious about following through on its own minimal human rights demands for Egypt."