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Pressure on US lawmakers to suspend military support for Egypt

September 26, 2023 at 10:23 am

US Senator Bob Menendez holds a press conference as he rejects accusations of corruption and calls from fellow Democrats to step down from Congress after he was indicted for a second time last week in New Jersey, United States on September 25, 2023 [Fatih Aktaş/Anadolu Agency]

The indictment of Senator Bob Menendez on charges of corruptly aiding the Egyptian government has set the stage for a week of renewed pressure on US lawmakers to withhold military aid to Egypt, the Guardian newspaper said in a report by its correspondent Ruth Michaelson.

Menendez announced his temporary resignation as chairman of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, after the southern district court of New York brought a series of strong and detailed charges against him on Friday, which include accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, as well as gold bars, mortgage payments and luxury cars, in exchange for using his influence and violating his duties “in ways that benefited the government of Egypt” and at the same time promoting a halal meat company licensed in New Jersey, linked to the Egyptian state.

Senator Menendez has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying, “those who believe in justice believe in innocence until proven guilty.”

The indictment details the senator’s close relations with Egyptian intelligence officials, including meetings that took place in Washington and Cairo to discuss $1.3 billion in annual US military aid, an area in which Menendez had an influential position.

READ: US Senator Menendez defiantly rejects calls to step down

The Biden administration recently decided to suspend $85 million in aid due to what it said were human rights concerns, a substantially lower amount than had been suspended the previous year.

This sparked criticism from observers, who noted Egypt’s stark human rights record and spoke of the tens of thousands of detainees imprisoned under Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s regime, including political prisoners and American green card holders.

Washington-based group, the Freedom Initiative, which focuses on political prisoners throughout the Middle East, said: “According to the three-count indictment, while enriching himself, Menendez used his position to prioritize the wants of Egypt’s corrupt and brutal government and security services.”

An infographic titled "A timeline of US Senator Bob Menendez's corruption indictments" created in Ankara, Turkiye on September 26, 2023 [Mahmut Resul Karaca/Anadolu Agency]

An infographic titled “A timeline of US Senator Bob Menendez’s corruption indictments” created in Ankara, Turkiye on September 26, 2023 [Mahmut Resul Karaca/Anadolu Agency]

“The indictment alleges significant efforts by the Egyptian government to improperly influence US policy and law. President Biden and his administration should demand an accounting from the Egyptian government and announce a review of the bilateral relationship,” added the group.

Seth Binder, advocacy director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, said that his organisation will be one of several to pressure lawmakers to suspend military aid to Egypt, in light of the accusations against Senator Menendez and the revelation of Egypt’s interference in American policy. He said: “This is a rare thing; Congress jumping in like this is not commonly done. But also, the information in the indictment is quite unusual.”

“We often hear that using military aid as leverage won’t work, as the Egyptian government doesn’t really care about the assistance. This indictment should put that argument to bed, it has clearly been proven false.”

Among the accusations against Menendez are text messages to his wife, Nadine Menendez, which were leaked to Egyptian officials, that contain sensitive information related to an employee at the American embassy in Cairo.

The accusations include the senator communicating with his wife regarding information related to his personal approval of arms deals to Egypt.

READ: US Senator Menendez hit with bribery charges over Egypt ties