US Withholds Military Aid to Egypt Over Human Rights but Approves Arms Sales
Biden administration sends mixed signals as it holds back $130 million out of an approved $300 million in military financing to the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
The Biden administration has resolved to cut $130 million in annual military financial assistance from the United States to Egypt over human rights concerns, following consecutive years of providing Egypt the same amount of military financing.
Sen. Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement on Friday that the aid cut “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.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September approved military assistance to Egypt of $300 million but said that the US would withhold $130 million of it unless Egypt addressed a list of human rights issues.
That same month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi launched the country’s first domestic National Strategy for Human Rights, which aims to improve the human rights situation in the country. In addition, Egypt has released several political prisoners.
However, the American government believes that these actions are not enough and it will divert the $130 million in aid to other international programs.
It looks incompetent because while withholding the military aid, it is approving military sales
An official with nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch told The Media Line, “Egypt is currently in one of the worst periods for human rights in its modern history.”
This includes holding tens of thousands of political prisoners in prisons, ordering arbitrary detentions and forced disappearances, the wide-spread and systematic use of torture, and the crushing of civil society.
However, the full list of demands from the US, upon which the release of the aid was conditioned and which the Egyptian government was required to fulfill before January 30, has not been publicly released.
The Washington Post reported that the list included ending the unjust detentions of 16 political prisoners, and completely ending “Case 173,” which has targeted independent human rights organizations and human rights defenders, as well as independent civil society in Egypt.
With Egypt unable to fulfill the requirements set out by the US, the $130 million originally designated for military aid to Egypt was diverted to “other national security priorities” the State Department said in a statement.
In the same week, however, the State Department approved an arms sale to Egypt worth $2.5 billion. The arms purchased include C-130 cargo jets and radar.
Robert Silverman, a former US diplomat who served in Egypt for four years and a lecturer in the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Department at Shalem College, told The Media Line that the moves have left everyone confused.
The matter was badly handled by the Biden administration, he says, explaining that “it looks incompetent because while withholding the military aid, it is approving military sales.”
The Human Rights Watch official agrees, telling The Media Line: “We feel that the Biden administration really undercut its decision to reprogram this aid by announcing this other arms sale in the same week.”
Silverman says this is a wrongful policy. “The move is not effective in changing their [Egypt’s] human rights policies by publicly shaming them, we know this from history,” he said.
He points to 1956, when Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s administration decided to accept military aid from the Soviet Union, leading the US to publicly withdraw its support for the Aswan Dam project. “It didn’t change any policy; it just angered the Egyptians for being publicly shamed,” Silverman said. In the end, he added, the public action “resulted in a speech where Nasser publicly refuted the US.”
He said that issues such as human rights and domestic policies should certainly be handled, but in private, not by publicly shaming the country.
Silverman argued that, as the maneuver is not effective especially in a place like Egypt, the US move “was probably not even designed to be effective, this was designed to please domestic constituencies in the US that pressure Biden’s administration to do these things.”
In the end, the only thing that the blocking of military aid will achieve, Silverman concludes, is for “US allies to question the country’s commitment to them and its ability to be a reliable ally.”