US withholds millions in aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, but critics say it's 'not enough'

US withholds millions in aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, but critics say it's 'not enough'
Human Rights Watch called the Biden administration's decision for a partial cut to a multimillion-dollar military aid budget to Egypt 'disappointing', saying that all of the funds should be tied to human rights conditions.
3 min read
14 September, 2021
President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has faced international criticism for routine human rights abuses reported in Egypt [Getty]

The US will withhold aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, cutting off millions from the North African country but not stopping aid payments altogether, a US official said on Monday. 

Washington gives $1.3 billion in military aid to Cairo each year, of which $300 million is attached to certain human rights conditions set by the US Congress. 

While $170 million will continue to flow to Egypt - to be used for counterterrorism, border security and non-proliferation measures only - $130 million will be withheld until human rights conditions are met.  

These conditions include ending "protracted prosecutions against rights and civil society organisations... and drop[ing] charges against... 16 individuals the United States had identified and raised with Cairo since June", said a US official, quoted in The Washington Post. 

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Human Rights Watch said to The New Arab that "this is not enough". All of the $1.3 billion should be attached to stopping routine human rights abuses, said the watchdog. 

"This was disappointing," said Amr Magdi, a writer and researcher at HRW. "It sends an inconsistent message to Egypt that they can just wait a matter of time to get what they want." 

HRW called for an end to the National Security waiver, which is used by US presidents to ensure that all, or at least some, of the $300 million aid package contingent on human rights standards reaches Egypt without abuses being addressed. 

"It's time for governments to distance themselves from countries like Egypt," said Magdi. 

The US watchdog has found evidence of extra-legal killings, mass arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, torture, and ill-treatment in prisons in the North African country. 

There are also critics of Biden's selective aid cut within the Democratic Party. 

Democratic Senator from Connecticut Chris Murphy told Politico: "The Egyptians will still feel like they've been slapped in the face, but the world will not feel the full moral impact."

On entering office, Biden and Blinken said human rights will be a cornerstone of US foreign policy. 

However, a review of Biden’s administration so far shows that concerns over human rights have been overruled by national security priorities and maintaining relations with foreign powers. 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been a useful friend to the US, most noticeably helping to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza earlier this year. 

Israel’s Naftali Bennett met Sisi on Monday, the first visit to the North African country by a prime minister of Israel in over a decade. 

Bennett said before heading back home that the meeting helped create "a foundation for deep ties in the future" between Egypt and US-ally Israel.