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20 rights groups call on US to withhold $300m aid to Egypt

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Athens on 19 October 2021. [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images]
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in Athens on 19 October 2021 [ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images]

Human rights organisations are calling on US officials to withhold $300 million of military aid to Egypt as the country has failed to meet the human rights conditions attached to the funding.

The money is part of $1.3 billion of FY2021 military funding for Egypt, of which $1 billion, which has no human rights conditions attached, has already been transferred.

The FY2021 law stipulates that $225 million should be withheld until Egypt takes "sustained and effective steps" on human rights conditions and the remaining $75 million should be withheld until the government makes progress releasing political prisoners and allowing them due process.

Addressing the letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Jake Sullivan, the 20 organisations write that the Egyptian government has abjectly failed "to meet the congressionally mandated human rights conditions."

"Providing this additional military aid to Egypt in these circumstances would contradict the frequent pledges from the Biden administration to put human rights at the centre of US foreign policy, including specifically its relationship with Egypt."

The letter, whose signatories include the Freedom Initiative and Committee for Justice, goes on to say that President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's brutal repression has destabilised the country and committed a "staggering number of gross human rights violations," among them torture, extrajudicial killings, and censorship.

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Thousands remain in detention despite reform initiatives designed for global consumption, such as the National Strategy for Human Rights and the National Dialogue, in which Cairo promises to review violations, including the death penalty and torture.

In Egypt, political prisoners are systematically tortured and denied medical care whilst there has been a particular crackdown on anyone who took part in the 2011 revolution. This crackdown has continued beyond the announcement of these initiatives.

There is evidence that US military equipment has been used in human rights violations, continues the letter, urging the US government to suspend arms sales to Egypt, which is even more urgent since the conditions of the last batch of military financing have still not been met.

In January the US government held back $130 million of FY2020 foreign military financing until the Egyptian government dropped charges against 16 citizens charged in politically motivated cases and closed Case 173 which targets civil society in the country.

However, although a handful of political prisoners have been released since then, thousands remain incarcerated. Case 173 has not been closed, and the US government completed a $2.5 billion arms deal with Egypt at the same time, which totally eclipsed the amount of aid being withheld.

At the time, US officials said the sale of military transport planes and radar systems and the withholding of military aid were unrelated, despite an outcry from human rights organisations.

Rights advocates at the time also felt that holding back $130 million of military aid was inadequate given the scale of rights abuses in the country.

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