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US won't give Egypt $130 million in planned aid

US President Joe Biden's administration is set to deny $130 million of military aid to Egypt, US State Department officials said on Friday, in a rare punishment of a key ally.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in September that the aid would be withheld if Egypt did not address specific human rights-related conditions Washington has set out, which activists say included the release of certain people deemed to be political prisoners.

Rights groups had called on the administration to block the entire $300m in foreign military financing to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's government.

Mr El Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, has overseen a crackdown on dissent that has tightened in recent years.

“While the secretary has not made the final decision, if there are not major developments over the next couple of days, the secretary will re-programme the $130m to other national security priorities as he previewed in September,” a State Department official said in a call with reporters.

The portion of the aid withheld accounts for 10 per cent of the $1.3 billion that was allocated for Egypt for fiscal year 2020. This amount has been appropriated to Egypt every year since 2017, a congressional research report showed.

But Friday's announcement comes after the administration this week approved the potential sale of air defence radars and C-130 Super Hercules planes to Egypt for a combined value of more than $2.5bn, raising doubts about the impact of the withheld amount.

Advocates welcomed the decision to withhold $130m but also expressed partial disappointment.

“This was the right decision. Egypt's atrocious human rights record should leave no room for compromises from the US government. But we also saw $2.5bn in US arms sales to Egypt notified this same week … It's not much more than a slap on the wrist given those handouts,” said Sarah Holewinski, Washington director of Human Rights Watch.

US officials say the relationship with Egypt is complex. The most populous Arab country is a vital ally and Washington is still committed to support it for its “legitimate defence needs”. They also add that the $2.5bn sale is a deal that specifically serves US interests.

“They're sort of emblematic in the types of things we would like to see Egypt procuring because these are things that have direct relations to US security interests more broadly,” one of the State Department officials said.

Chris Murphy, a Democratic senator and an ally of Mr Biden, welcomed the decision, and said Mr El Sisi had failed to meet the administration's “narrow and wholly achievable human rights conditions".

“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 cheques from America,” Mr Murphy said in a statement.

Source: National Post

Written by The Levant

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