The United States approved an arms sale worth nearly $200m to Egypt but vowed to press human rights issues after an American activist reported his family had been harassed.
The Biden administration – which has vowed to end support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations in Yemen’s devastating war and is reviewing a major jet sale to the United Arab Emirates – said it approved the sale of 168 tactical missiles to Egypt.
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The $197m sale of the Raytheon-made Rolling Airframe Missiles was requested by the Egyptian navy to improve defence in coastal areas and around the Red Sea, the US Department of State said.
The department said in a statement it approved the sale, subject to congressional review, as Egypt “continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East”.
Biden has vowed a tougher stance on human rights after his predecessor Donald Trump courted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom he reportedly called “my favourite dictator”, in part for his cooperation with Israel.
‘Allegations of arbitrary arrest’
A lawyer for Mohamed Soltan, a US citizen who has filed a lawsuit alleging torture in Egyptian custody, said plainclothes officers raided the homes of six of his family members on Sunday, detaining two cousins.
Department of State spokesman Ned Price said the US was aware and “looking into” the account. “We take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention,” he told reporters.
“We will bring our values with us into every relationship that we have across the globe. That includes with our close security partners. That includes with Egypt.”
In Egypt, pro-el-Sisi television hosts greeted the statement about the arrests with disdain – neither confirming or denying their veracity – with some such as Nashaat al-Deehy bluntly calling Soltan “a terrorist”.
Soltan, the son of a leading member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in August 2013 after el-Sisi led the military overthrow of elected President Mohamed Morsi.
In 2015, Soltan was released and deported to the US after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship.
He filed the lawsuit in a US court in June and last month worked with members of Congress to form a caucus devoted to promoting human rights in Egypt.
“Now the Egyptian regime is arresting his relatives to try to intimidate him into silence. Such tactics have no place in the international community,” said Eric Lewis, a lawyer for Soltan.