The United States will provide security assistance to Egypt despite the repression practiced by the Sisi regime against dissent, says Human Rights Watch.
Doing so, the rights watchdog states, the Biden Administration is waiving human rights conditions, with only a small fraction of aid withheld.
The Biden administration’s decision to waive human rights conditions to provide nearly the full amount of security assistance to Egypt disregards the Egyptian government’s ongoing repressive policies, Human Rights Watch said today.
The State Department announced on September 14, 2023 that the United States government government would provide the $235 million, which could have been withheld, in Fiscal Year 2022 Foreign Military Financing.
This decision contrasts with the administration’s decisions over the previous two years, when it withheld $130 million in Foreign Military Financing to Egypt, citing the Egyptian government’s failure to meet a broad range of human rights conditions.
US officials told the media that while US concerns for human rights in Egypt remain, Secretary of State Antony Blinken “determined that it is in the US national security interest to waive certain human rights related conditions.”
“The Biden administration’s decision to provide the full amount of security assistance is at odds with the Egyptian government’s attacks on human rights,” said Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch.
“US officials are creating a false choice between national security and human rights, and undermining the president’s pledge to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy.”
In March 2022, the US Congress conditioned $235 million in Foreign Military Financing for Fiscal Year 2022 on the Egyptian government taking several actions. They included “sustained and effective steps” to strengthen human rights, protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and hold security forces accountable.
Separately, the appropriations legislation mandates Congress to withhold an additional $85 million if the Egyptian government does not make strides in “releasing political prisoners, providing detainees with due process, and preventing the intimidation and harassment of American citizens.” The Biden administration withheld that $85 million due to the lack of progress in these areas.
Over the past year, the Egyptian government has been responsible for a range of rights violations, including:
Arbitrary detentions, wrongful prosecutions, and harsh sentences targeting dissidents and activists in retaliation for their peaceful criticism of the government.
Onerous restrictions on the registration and operation of nongovernmental organizations based on several restrictive laws, including the 2019 NGO law.
Imposed limits on electricity use with daily power cutbacks nationwide that put people’s economic and social rights at risk.
At the same time, the military has taken on an ever-expanding and unaccountable role in the economy.
Lack of accountability for ongoing and past military and police abuses, including war crimes in North Sinai.
Turning away civilians fleeing the armed conflict in Sudan by imposing new entry requirements.
“Egypt’s human rights record remains abysmal in all the ways Congress cared about when conditioning US aid,” Widdersheim said.
“The Biden administration should base its relationship with Cairo on principled and consistent human rights values that prioritize the Egyptian people’s rights over their repressive government.”
In the same context, some sixteen human rights organizations also slammed the Biden administration’s decision related to the US aid to Egypt in a joint statement, as follows:
– Biden Decision to Grant Military Aid to Egypt Undermines U.S. Credibility and Interests
The Biden administration’s decision to provide the Government of Egypt with the $235 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) that Congress conditioned on human rights benchmarks sends the wrong message at the wrong time. By withholding less than it did in each of the last two years, the administration is effectively telling President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government that it saw improvement in the human rights situation over the past year, when in fact things have degenerated significantly. This undermines any efforts by the administration to address human rights concerns in Egypt and will only further embolden al-Sisi, risking further destabilizing the country.
In the past few weeks alone, the Egyptian government has intensified its crackdown on the political opposition, including the arrest of Hisham Kassem and sentencing of Mohamed Adel; carried out egregious examples of transnational repression, such as the arrest of the father of Belgium-based journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada; and continued to severely restrict the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, among others, by attacking the independent, fact-checking media platform Matsadaash. Just today, Citizen Lab confirmed that presidential candidate Ahmed al-Tantawi joins the growing list of Egyptians targeted by Predator spyware. And Egypt’s prisons remain as full as ever: Since the beginning of the year, the government has released approximately six hundred political prisoners, but over that time authorities have arrested more than two thousand others.
Moreover, this decision harms U.S. interests by undoing the credibility built over the past two years. At a time when the administration has sought to convince the world that the United States is committed to a rules-based order that separates its vision from those of rival powers, ignoring when partners violate the rules reflects a double standard and signals a lack of commitment to the rules the United States claims to defend and value.
While we welcome the administration’s decision to withhold the $85 million in FMF conditioned on “releasing political prisoners, providing detainees with due process of law, and preventing the intimidation and harassment of American citizens,” by providing the Egyptian government with more than $1.2 billion in military aid, the Biden administration contradicts its repeated commitments to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy. It also reaffirms the need for Congress to do more to hold al-Sisi’s government accountable for its rampant human rights abuses by further restricting military aid to Egypt and increasing its calls for significant and systemic human rights reforms.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Center for International Policy
Committee for Justice
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)
EgyptWide for Human Rights
The Freedom Initiative
HuMENA for Human Rights and Civic Engagement
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy