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US Senator blocks $75m aid to Egypt over failure to make human rights reform

US Senator Patrick Leahy [CSIS/Flickr]
US Senator Patrick Leahy [CSIS/Flickr]

US Senator Patrick Leahy has blocked $75 million of aid to Egypt over its failure to make progress on human rights reform particularly the release of 60,000 political prisoners.

The annual military aid America gives Egypt, $1.3 billion, has come under heavy scrutiny in the last few years as Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has consolidated control over the country and continued to squeeze the space for free speech.

Some of the money is subject to a waiver if conditions for reform aren't met, namely freeing political prisoners, and in September the Biden administration withheld $130 million over human rights concerns but said it would allow $75 million to be paid because Egypt had released 500 political prisoners.

But Leahy, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has jurisdiction over spending legislation and financial assistance, rejected the assessment justifying the aid: "We should take this law very seriously, because the situation facing political prisoners in Egypt is deplorable."

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"We can't give short shrift to the law because of other policy considerations. We all have a responsibility to uphold the law and to defend the due process rights of the accused, whether here or in Egypt."

Despite making surface reforms and releasing several hundred political prisoners, thousands remain behind bars, including more than 80 lawyers. The conditions by Congress say that Egypt must make "clear and consistent progress" on releasing prisoners and adhering to due process.

Last week, award-winning Egyptian lawyer and former political prisoner Mahienour El-Massry was informed she was banned from travelling despite a month earlier being told there was no travel ban in place.

Former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is in his seventies, was arrested in 2018 after criticising the government and calling for a boycott of the presidential elections.

He is still in prison and is not allowed to access the prison library and has not been given a TV, books, or a magazine.

Pressure from the human rights community on the Egyptian government to release political prisoners has been ramped up in recent months as Egypt prepares to host COP27 in November.

Cop Civic Space, a petition urging Egypt to open civic space, is calling for solidarity with prisoners, many of whom are tortured and denied adequate medical care.

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