Reuters: The Biden administration is heading to deprive Egypt of military aid of about $130 million

US State Department officials said – Friday evening – that the administration of President Joe Biden intends to deprive Egypt of $130 million in military aid, due to human rights concerns.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in September that aid would be withheld if Egypt did not address specific human rights conditions indicated by Washington.

And human rights groups had called on the administration to withhold the entire amount of military funding to the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt, amounting to 300 million dollars.

“While the secretary has not made a final decision, in the absence of major developments over the next two days, he will redirect the $130 million to other national security priorities,” an official told reporters by telephone.

The withheld aid represents 10% of the $1.3 billion allocated to Egypt in fiscal year 2020.

The announcement comes after the US administration approved a potential deal that includes air defense radars and C-130 planes to Egypt, with a total value of more than $2.5 billion, in a move that raises doubts about the impact of the seized amount.

Meanwhile, rights groups welcomed the decision to withhold $130 million in aid to Egypt, but also expressed disappointment.

“It was the right decision, because Egypt’s disgraceful human rights record should leave no room for compromise from the US government,” said Sarah Holwinsky, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

But Holwinsky at the same time criticized the announcement of US arms sales to Egypt worth 2.5 billion dollars, stressing that the decision to block is only a minor punishment in view of that deal.

US security interests

US officials describe the relationship with Cairo as complex. Egypt is the most populous Arab country and an important ally of the United States, and they say the $2.5 billion deal specifically serves American interests.

“It’s something that has symbolic value in terms of the kind of things we want Egypt to have, because it has direct ties to broader US security interests,” a State Department official said.

US Senator Chris Murphy – a Democrat and ally of President Joe Biden – welcomed the decision, saying that Sisi had failed to meet “the small administration’s human rights conditions, which are fully achievable.”

“This sends an important message abroad that we will strengthen our commitment to human rights through action, and that the days of dictators receiving blank checks from America are over,” Murphy said in a statement.

There are no official figures for the number of detainees in Egypt, but human rights groups say that tens of thousands have been arrested on security-related charges, and confirm that most of them are still behind bars.

Al-Sisi has faced criticism for years from activists and some foreign leaders, including Biden, for his crackdown on the opposition since taking power in 2014, after he led the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At a youth forum this month, Sisi described the criticism of human rights as an attack on Egypt, stressing that it did not reflect the reality on the ground.

Al-Sisi added that the government is trying to improve the economic situation after the turmoil that followed the January 25, 2011 revolution.

He stressed that stability and security are the top priority, and that the authorities are working to advance rights by trying to meet basic needs such as jobs and housing.

Biden has pledged to put human rights at the center of his foreign policy, while human rights advocates are pressing Washington to toughen up with Sisi, despite an improvement in relations with Egypt after Cairo brokered an end to fighting between Israel and Hamas in April.

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