Human rights organisations: Biden decision to withhold some military aid to Egypt ‘insufficient’

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Eighteen local and international human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have welcomed the decision of the administration of US President Joe Biden to reprogramme $130 million in foreign military funding from the Egyptian government.

The administration had suspended the amount since mid-September, pending the Egyptian government’s fulfillment of two modest human rights conditions, but it failed to meet the minimum of these demands.

The organisations said in a joint statement that this adherence to human rights obligations gives a clear indication of their importance in the relations between the two countries. But just days before that decision, the United States gave Egypt billions of dollars in new security aid, undermining the powerful message of the reprogramming decision, they added. The statement indicated that the Egyptian authorities have released several prominent political prisoners since last September, perhaps in response to American pressure. But at the same time, it continued to commit flagrant human rights violations, including targeting independent media, cracking down on civil society, suppressing political opponents, imprisoning businessmen, and banning protests.

Despite announcing the end of the state of emergency on October 25, 2021, the Egyptian House of Representatives quickly passed several amendments that give the president and the army the same, but permanent, powers of the state of emergency. Trials before emergency courts also continued with lengthy prison sentences that are not subject to appeal.

The organisations indicated that the decision to reprogramme the military aid could have been an effective pressure tool on the Egyptian government to meet basic human rights standards. But the Biden administration undermined the effectiveness of this decision when it announced it had struck a $2.5 billion weapons deal with Egypt and the provision of $1 billion dollars in security assistance. The organisations emphasised that depriving the administration of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of $130 million, in parallel with completing arms deals and continuing to provide military aid, is a clear undermining of the decision to reprogramme funds and a waste of a meaningful step that was supposed to reflect the US administration’s fulfilment of its pledges to place human rights at the centre of its relationship with Egypt.

The organisations lamented that the Biden administration had again failed to respond adequately to the gravity of the human rights crisis in Egypt. It called on Congress to intervene and affirm that the continuation of US military support to the Egyptian government is contingent on making radical improvements in human rights.