By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Objections from a veteran senator over Egypt’s human rights record, including the detention of some 60,000 political prisoners, have forced the Biden administration to cut a symbolically significant $75 million from its military aid. year planned for that country.
Senate Appropriations Chair Patrick Leahy, the responsible senator, said in a statement Monday that it was important that US administrations not allow other political interests to override congressionally mandated attention to Egypt’s poor human rights record, ” because the situation faced by political prisoners in Egypt is deplorable. ”
The US gives more than $1 billion in military aid annually to Egypt, which it views as a regionally important ally for the US and Israel. That is despite President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s record on human rights, including what human rights groups say is the murder, imprisonment and torture of critics of the Egyptian government.
In recent years, Congress has conditioned the US payment of $300 million in such aid on Egypt’s government showing progress on rights, though the State Department can and often does waive that requirement. Congressional conditioning of some of Egypt’s security aid constitutes an annual public test of the balance between strategic interests and human rights of US administrations.
The Biden administration said last month that it planned to give a portion, $170 million, of that $300 million. He cited Egypt’s release of 500 political prisoners. Human rights advocates and relatives of imprisoned activists called Egypt’s releases symbolic.
Leahy opposed the administration’s decision and urged the state to clarify its standards on the matter or give the money as scholarships to Egyptian students or military aid to Ukraine, Leahy spokesman David Carle said. Funding remained at a standstill until it hit the spending deadline of September 30 and expired.
The Egyptian news organization Mada Masr first reported the partial blocking of funds by an unnamed senator. Reuters first reported that it was Leahy.
In a statement Monday, the State Department said it “will continue to consult closely with Congress as we engage on human rights with the Egyptian government and seek tangible steps to address shared concerns by the administration and Congress.”
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