The United States has decided to hold back some of the military aid it provides to Egypt due to human rights concerns, the website Politico reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed Washington official.
If true, the decision marks a change by the administration of President Joe Biden from the policies of his predecessors, who had opted not to touch the $1.3 billion the U.S. gives Egypt annually despite mounting concerns over human rights violations.
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The report comes a day after Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Israeli officials said al-Sissi has been seeking to strengthen ties with Israel and do so publicly in order to ease some of the strains with Washington over human rights.
“They [the Egyptians] need the connection in order to alleviate the pressure they’re feeling from the international community as regards human rights in their country,” an Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz. “In recent months the Egyptians seem to have decided that they should upgrade relations [with Israel] and give it more visibility.”
The reported U.S. decision on Egyptian aid is based on a Congressional mandate that conditions $300 million of the $1.3 billion in assistance on Cairo’s proper observance of human rights. In the past, U.S. secretaries of state have exercised their discretion to overrule those conditions in order for the aid to be provided to Egypt unconditionally.
Politico said a U.S. official told them that the U.S. State Department had decided to withhold only $130 million of the $300 million, and allow for the transfer of the other $170 million but only for certain uses, such as counterterrorism, border security and nonproliferation.
Several members of Congress have been pressuring Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to withhold the entire $300 million. They note that, among other things, al-Sissi has jailed tens of thousands on political grounds.