Nonetheless it said the administration would provide the majority of the assistance for border security, nonproliferation and counterterrorism programs while withholding the remaining $130 million. The withheld amount will be released “if the government of Egypt affirmatively addresses specific human-rights related conditions,” the department said.
Anticipating criticism of the announcement, which was previewed to some lawmakers on Monday, the State Department said the administration's human rights concerns about Egypt, which remains in the throes of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s harsh crackdown on dissent, are significant.
But, it said maintaining positive ties with Sisi’s government is important and noted that new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had visited Egypt just on Monday. Egypt is one of just two Arab nations to have gone to war with Israel to have signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state.
“Our bilateral relationship with Egypt will be stronger, and America’s interests will be better served, through continued U.S. engagement to advance our national security interests, including addressing our human rights concerns,” the State Department said.
Under Sissi, Egypt has seen the heaviest crackdown on dissent in its modern history. Officials have targeted not only Islamist political opponents but also pro-democracy activists, journalists and online critics. Lengthy pretrial detentions have become a common practice to keep the government’s critics behind bars for as long as possible.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a strong supporter of President Joe Biden who has repeatedly called for human rights conditions to be attached and enforced for foreign aid, lamented the decision. He called it “a big missed opportunity to stand up strongly and unequivocally for human rights.”
“Continuing our security relationship with Egypt, with only minor changes, sends the wrong message,” Murphy said in a statement. ”This was a chance to send a strong message about America’s commitment to human rights and democracy, with little cost to our security, and we fell short.”
A group of 19 human rights groups, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, also decried the decision, calling it “a terrible blow to its stated commitment to human rights and to the rule of law.”
“This administration has repeatedly vowed to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy and specifically its relationship with Egypt,” they said. “This decision, however, is a betrayal of these commitments.”