US senior Senate, House democrats support blocking military aid to Egypt

While Senior Senate Democrat Ben Cardin threatened to block military aid to Egypt on human rights grounds, top House Democrat on foreign affairs Gregory Meeks requested Biden pause aid to the north African populous nation.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee vowed on Saturday to block military aid and arms sales to Egypt if it does not take concrete steps to improve human rights in the country.

Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Cardin issued the threat in a statement, saying “it is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations.”

The announcement came a day after U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, the ranking Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said he had asked the State Department to pause a portion of military aid to Egypt conditioned on human rights criteria.

The stepped-up pressure follows the Sept. 22 federal indictment of the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, tied partly to allegations that he had accepted bribes in exchange for wielding his influence to aid Egypt’s government.

Menendez denies wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty.

The Egyptian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Cardin’s announcement.

Cardin, who replaced Menendez as head of the Senate panel, said Egypt must show progress in efforts to accelerate the release of political prisoners and “provide space” for human rights defenders, civil society advocates, political opposition and independent media.

“I intend to exercise fully the committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to block future foreign military funds as well as sale of arms to the government of Egypt if it does not take concrete, meaningful, and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in its country,” he said.

Washington has long provided Egypt with large amounts of military and other aid, ever since the Arab world’s most populous nation signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel in 1979.

Much of the aid has been withheld in recent years over concerns about human rights abuses under the government of Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

But President Joe Biden’s administration announced this month it had decided to waive human rights restrictions on $235 million of the aid, citing security benefits to the U.S. It is currently withholding $85 million of the aid, a fraction of the $1.3 billion a year allocated for Egypt.

Meanwhile, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee requested the State Department pause a portion of military financing for Egypt over concerns that Cairo has failed to deliver on improving its human rights record.

Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.) said he is pushing for the Biden administration to withhold $320 million in military financing, saying that “Congress needs more clarity from the State Department on how concerns about treatment of political prisoners, journalists, as well as the rule of law are being tackled in our bilateral relationship.”

The request for a pause comes after Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) stepped down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after a federal indictment unsealed last week accused him of accepting bribes in exchange for using his political influence to benefit Egypt’s government.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who took over as chair of the Foreign Relations panel, told reporters Thursday that he would speak with his foreign policy staff and the administration before making a decision on whether he would use his position to exercise a hold on U.S. military financing for Egypt.

The Biden administration announced earlier this month that it was moving forward on providing Egypt with $235 million in foreign military financing, issuing a waiver that allows for the money to proceed despite concerns over Egypt’s human rights record.

The Biden administration withheld $85 million of the total military financing to express serious concerns about human rights abuses in Egypt.