US lawmakers urge Biden to withhold more military aid to Egypt

US senators call on Biden administration to withhold $320m in aid over Egypt’s ‘deteriorating’ human rights record.

Joe Biden sits across from Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with American and Egyptian flags in the background
US President Joe Biden meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on November 11, 2022 [File: The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via Reuters]

A group of 11 US senators has called on the United States to withhold a larger portion of military aid to Egypt, saying the North African country’s human rights record “has continued to deteriorate” over the past year under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

In a letter addressed to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday, the US lawmakers said Egypt had made little progress on human rights issues, including strengthening the rule of law, protecting media freedoms, and investigating forced disappearances.

The signatories, which included several members of US President Joe Biden’s own Democratic Party, urged the Biden administration to withhold $320m in so-called foreign military financing that Washington sends to Cairo each year.

“The [Egyptian] government has not only failed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, it has also continued to commit ‘significant human rights’ violations such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance, torture and life-threating prison conditions, and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association,” they said.

The letter (PDF) was led by Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, and senators Bernie Sanders, Dick Durbin, and Elizabeth Warren were among the signatories.

It is the latest effort in the United States to condition American aid to Egypt – a longstanding US ally in the Middle East – on the basis of human rights.

For years, rights groups have accused the government of el-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 military coup, of jailing tens of thousands of dissidents and outlawing virtually all forms of political opposition.

The US State Department’s annual report on human rights in Egypt also documented the government’s use of extrajudicial executions and torture, as well as the imprisonment of thousands of writers and human rights advocates.

Cairo has denied holding political prisoners and rejected criticism of its rights record, saying its policies are part of a push to tackle “terrorism”.

The US sends $1.3bn in military assistance to Egypt each year, and in 2021, under pressure from lawmakers in Congress, the Biden administration announced it was cancelling $130m of that aid due to human rights concerns.

But lawmakers and rights groups want more of the assistance to be put on hold.

More than 20 human rights organisations on Friday also urged the Biden administration to cut off the $320m in military aid, accusing Egypt of carrying out a “merciless crackdown on the press, political opposition, and civil society”.

“The Egyptian government’s actions in recent months demonstrate that it has not halted its repression campaign or delivered on commitments to meaningfully improve the human rights situation,” the groups, which included Human Rights Watch and Project on Middle East Democracy, said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies