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US unfreezes $195m in military aid to Egypt

Trump administration held up funds last year over Egypt's human rights record
Funds are intended for Egypt to buy US-made military equipment (AFP)

The Trump administration decided to unfreeze $195m in military aid to Egypt that it had previously withheld because of concerns over Egypt's human rights record, a US State Department official said on Wednesday.

The decision to allow Cairo to use the previously blocked funds is intended to recognise "steps Egypt has taken over the last year in response to specific US concerns" and in the spirit of strengthening the partnership with Egypt, the official said.

A high-level Egyptian military delegation has been in Washington for talks prior to the US announcement, the state-run Ahram daily reported

The $195m in aid was part of the US government's fiscal year 2016 budget. The funds, known as Foreign Military Financing, are intended for Egypt to buy US-made military equipment.

The Trump administration held up the funds last year, citing what it said was Egypt's failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms.

Cairo criticised the decision at that time, saying it reflected "poor judgement" and could have "negative repercussions" on bilateral relations between the two countries. 

The decision in part reflected Washington's frustration over a new law that regulates non-governmental organisations and was widely seen as part Egypt's growing crackdown on dissent.

The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not cite any specific steps Egypt had taken to address US human rights concerns. The official indicated that preserving US security cooperation with Egypt, which includes countering militant groups, was part of the rationale for releasing the funds.

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"We have serious concerns regarding human rights and governance in Egypt, and we will continue to use the many tools at our disposal to raise these concerns," the official said.

Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, have said Egypt’s situation is the “worst human rights crisis in the country in decades”. A recent HRW report said that Egypt’s police conducted “torture, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent”.

"At the same time, strengthened security cooperation is important to US national security. Secretary [Mike] Pompeo determined that releasing these funds is important to supporting these needs and continuing to improve our partnership with Egypt," the official added.

The State Department's latest human rights report, released in April, cites a wide range of human rights issues in Egypt, including torture, limits on freedom of expression, government control over NGOs and the use of military courts to try civilians.

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