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Senior Senate Democrat threatens to block military aid to Egypt on human rights grounds

October 2, 2023 at 9:11 am

Senator Bob Menendez and his wife Nadine Menendez (not seen) depart a Manhattan court after they were arraigned on federal bribery charges in New York, United States on September 27, 2023 [Fatih Aktaş – Anadolu Agency]

The chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee vowed on Saturday to block military aid and arms sales to Egypt if it does not take concrete steps to improve human rights in the country, Reuters reported.

Democratic US Senator Ben Cardin issued the threat in a statement, saying: “It is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations.”

The announcement came a day after the US Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had asked the State Department to pause a portion of military aid to Egypt conditioned on human rights criteria.

The stepped-up pressure follows the 22 September federal indictment of the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, tied partly to allegations that he had accepted bribes in exchange for wielding his influence to aid Egypt’s government.

READ: Egypt: new ambassador ‘determined’ to improve relations with Turkiye 

Menendez denies wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty.

Cardin, who replaced Menendez as head of the Senate panel, said Egypt must show progress in efforts to accelerate the release of political prisoners and “provide space” for human rights defenders, civil society advocates, political opposition and independent media.

“I intend to exercise fully the committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to block future foreign military funds as well as sale of arms to the government of Egypt if it does not take concrete, meaningful, and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in its country,” he said.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Cardin’s announcement.

However, Egyptian lawmaker Essam Al-Omda described accusations of human rights violations as “baseless”.

“There are no human rights violations in Egypt, and all those imprisoned in Egypt had received judicial rulings or public prosecution decisions, but America is looking for a way to put pressure on Egypt for its neutrality in the Ukrainian crisis, as well as in view of Egypt’s imminent joining of the BRICS organisation,” he added.

Washington has long provided Egypt with large amounts of military and other aid, ever since the Arab world’s most populous nation signed a peace deal with neighbouring Israel in 1979.

Much of the aid has been withheld in recent years over concerns about human rights abuses under the government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.

But President Joe Biden’s administration announced this month it had decided to waive human rights restrictions on $235 million of the aid, citing security benefits to the US. It is currently withholding $85 million of the aid, a fraction of the $1.3 billion a year allocated for Egypt.

READ: US Senator Menendez to appear in court on charges of receiving bribes from Egypt