The Biden administration has announced that it is cancelling $130m in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, just days after the United States approved a massive $2.5bn arms sale to the country.
The State Department said on Friday that Egypt had not met the conditions to receive the $130m in foreign military financing that has been on hold since September. It said the money would be shifted to other programmes but did not elaborate.
In announcing the cancellation, the department made no mention of the $2.5bn sale of military transport planes and radar systems that it had approved on Tuesday; the announcement for that deal had made no mention of the frozen $130m.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September approved the release of $300m in foreign military financing to Egypt but withheld another $130m unless the government addressed “specific human-rights related conditions” by the end of January.
“The deadline for meeting those conditions will soon pass,” the department said. “The [government of Egypt] made notable progress on the conditions but to date has not met them all. Therefore, after January 30, the secretary intends to reprogram the $130 million to other national security priorities.”
Asked about the apparent inconsistency, US officials have said the military aid and the arms sale are unrelated.
They say Egypt will shoulder the cost of the $2.2bn purchase of the 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft together with the air defence radar systems worth an estimated $355m.
Wide-scale crackdown on dissent
Congressional Democrats who had urged Blinken not to approve the $130m aid were pleased with Friday’s decision but did not address the arms sale that dwarfs the amount of the withheld assistance.
“I’m glad the Biden administration held the line by reprogramming these funds,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
“It sends the important message abroad that we will back up our commitment to human rights with action and gone are the days where dictators receive blank checks from America.”
On Tuesday, the State Department had announced the $2.5bn arms sale, saying it would “support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally country that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East.”
— Responsible Statecraft (@RStatecraft) January 28, 2022
“We maintain that our bilateral relationship with Egypt will be stronger, and America’s interests will be better served, through continued US engagement to advance our national security interests, including addressing our human rights concerns,” the department said.
Egypt’s government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists but also secular activists who were involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country’s longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt imposed a state of emergency in April 2017, following deadly church bombings and attacks on Coptic Christians that killed more than 100 people and wounded dozens. It allowed for arrests without warrants, swift prosecution of suspects and the establishment of special courts.
The state of emergency has since been extended several times. However, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced in October, when the last extension expired, that his government will no longer renew it.