US decision to halt Egypt military aid over rights necessary but insufficient, rights groups

In a joint statement, 19 human rights organizations have called on the Biden administration to stop economic aids and arms sales to Egypt, as long as the government continues to perpetrate egregious human rights violations.

The 19 human rights organizations have signed a joint statement, saying that “Biden administration’s decision to reprogram military aid to Egypt is necessary but insufficient”.

The United States has recently halted part of Egypt military aid over rights after huge arms sale.

The Biden administration said Friday it was cancelling $130 million in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns. The announcement comes just days after the administration approved a massive $2.5 billion arms sale to the country.

The State Department said Friday that Egypt had not met the conditions to receive the $130 million in foreign military financing that has been on hold since September. It said the money would be shifted to other programs. It did not elaborate.

In announcing the cancellation, the department made no mention of the $2.5 billion sale of military transport planes and radar systems that it had approved Tuesday without any mention of the frozen $130 million.

“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, U.S. officials have said the military aid and the arms sale are unrelated. They say Egypt will shoulder the cost of the $2.2 billion purchase of the 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and air defense radar systems worth an estimated $355 million.

Congressional Democrats who had urged Blinken not to approve the $130 million 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 Sen. 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 announced the $2.5 billion 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.”

“We maintain that our bilateral relationship with Egypt will be stronger, and America’s interests will be better served, through continued U.S. 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 autocrat 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 scores. 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, Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced in October, when the last extension expired, that his government will no longer renew it.

The Joint Statement:

Biden administration’s decision to reprogram military aid to Egypt is necessary but insufficient:

Following the January 30 deadline, the Biden administration decided that it will reprogram $130 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) originally intended for the brutal government of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The United States had withheld this military aid since mid-September of last year pending the Egyptian government’s fulfillment of two modest human rights conditions: ending the unjust detentions of or dropping the charges against 16 Egyptians politically targeted by al-Sisi’s government and completely closing the decade-old Case 173 targeting independent civil society.

In light of the Egyptian government’s abject failure to meet the minimal conditions specified by the administration, the undersigned organizations welcome the Biden administration’s decision to reprogram this assistance in full. Upholding the conditions on the aid signals the importance of human rights in the bilateral relationship. But by moving forward with billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance just days before the decision, the strong message that could have been sent by reprogramming assistance has been undermined.

Notably, since September, Egyptian authorities have released a few prominent political prisoners, demonstrating that U.S. pressure can be effective. Yet simultaneously, as civil society forewarned, the Egyptian government has continued perpetrating egregious human rights violations: relentlessly targeting independent media and journalists, cracking down on civil society, repressing political opponents, strong-arming private businesses, and prohibiting protests and free expression. Despite ending the state of emergency on October 25, parliament quickly passed several amendments permanently consolidating the president’s and military’s emergency powers. Trials in front of emergency courts continued, most notably in the case of prominent activist and author Alaa Abdel Fattah, human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, who were handed lengthy, unappealable prison sentences on bogus charges of spreading “fake news” in December.

Reprogramming the withheld funds could have built important leverage to pressure the Egyptian government to meet basic human rights standards; instead, the Biden administration spectacularly undercut its decision by announcing, just days earlier, more than $2.5 billion in arms sales to Egypt and obligating $1 billion in FY2021 FMF. Denying the ruthless government of al-Sisi $130 million while moving forward with weapons deals and military aid worth nearly thirty times as much undermines the very purpose of reprogramming the funds. In doing so, the administration also squandered what could have been a meaningful step toward fulfilling its promise to “center” human rights in its relationship with Egypt.

Congress had placed conditions on $300 million in FY2020 FMF. The Biden administration’s decision to bypass those conditions and withhold only $130 million, a move similar to one taken by the Trump administration in 2017, has proved insufficient. Unfortunately, the administration’s recent steps have again failed to adequately respond to the severity of the human rights crisis in Egypt. It is therefore imperative for Congress to step up and make clear that continued U.S. military support for Egypt’s government is contingent on drastic improvements to their human rights record.


Belady An Island for Humanity (BIH); Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); Committee For Justice (CFJ); Committee to Protect Journalists; Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN); Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR); Egyptian Human Rights Forum; Freedom House; The Freedom Initiative; Human Rights First; Human Rights Watch; International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH); International Service for Human Rights (ISHR); MENA Rights Group; PEN America; Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED); Reporters Without Borders (RSF); Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights; World Organization Against Torture (OMCT).