Senator stops $75 million in U.S. military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns

Egypt has missed out on an additional $75 million in American military funding after a senior Democratic U.S. senator blocked the funding over concerns about Cairo’s human rights record, including holding political prisoners.

The State Department’s justification for the aid, which was conditioned on a law passed by Congress last year, was rejected by Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over spending bills that include U.S. financial assistance for Egypt.

“We should take this law very seriously, because the situation facing political prisoners in Egypt is deplorable,” Leahy told Reuters in a statement.

“We can’t give short shrift to the law because of other policy considerations. We all have a responsibility to uphold the law and to defend the due process rights of the accused, whether here or in Egypt,” Leahy said.

Egypt must make clear and consistent progress toward releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law, according to the conditions set by Congress.

In addition to the more than $1 billion in military assistance that the United States provides to Egypt annually, over $130 million in military aid was withheld in September because of concerns about human rights, with an additional $75 million being allowed to be distributed, citing Egyptian progress on political detentions and due process, including the release of hundreds of prisoners this year.

However, Leahy blocked the $75 million in funding. Talks between his office and the State Department were unsuccessful in resolving the matter, and the funding expired on September 30.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, among other leading human rights groups, have accused Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government of widespread abuses such as torture and the detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners. Egypt’s hypocritical human rights abuses have raised questions as to why Egypt is holding the upcoming UN’s COP27 climate change conference in November.

Egypt holds no political prisoners, Sisi said, adding that establishing stability and security are critical priorities for the country. Institutions are working to provide jobs and housing, among other things, in order to promote citizens’ rights.

Western nations are said to be reluctant to take significant action against Egypt which has served as a mediator in longstanding issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most significant shipping lanes.

Officials have referred to the United States’ relationship with Egypt as complex. Washington is still committed to supporting Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, for what it considers ‘legitimate defence needs.’

Image Credit: Michael A. McCoy/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo