In a rare rebuke of its ally Egypt, the United States has reportedly decided to block $130 million in military aid to Cairo over Egyptian human rights violations, according to State Department officials. 

Washington’s move follows a warning from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September than the Biden administration would deny military aid to the Egyptian government if it did not address specific human rights violations, such as the release of alleged political prisoners.

Human rights groups had urged Washington to deny Egypt the entire $300 million military aid package. But the Biden administration opted to withhold less than half of the total military aid package, likely in an attempt to convey its dissatisfaction while simultaneously maintaining its key alliance with Cairo. 

Furthermore, a U.S. State Department official indicated that Washington’s decision is not final and could change if the Egyptian government decides to address specific human rights controversies.

While the Secretary has not made the final decision, if there are not major developments over the next couple of days, the Secretary will re-program the $130 million to other national security priorities as he previewed in September,” the unnamed State Department official said. 

While Egypt is not a democracy, the current Egyptian government – led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi – has a pro-Western outlook and is a key regional ally in the war against radical anti-Western Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS-affiliated militias in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. 

In addition, official ties between Egypt and the Jewish state have improved considerably under Sisi’s tenure. Sisi welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Egypt in September for the first official visit of an Israeli prime minister to the nation in years. Cairo and Jerusalem have increased their security cooperation on regional challenges in the Middle East region. 

On the other hand, the Sisi government has faced Western criticism of human rights violations ever since Sisi ousted the radical Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Cairo receives more than $1.4 billion in aid from Washington annually, making Egypt the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel. The aid is mainly for bolstering Cairo’s defensive capabilities.  

While the Biden administration has chosen to make aid contingent on human rights among its Middle Eastern Arab allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Washington is clearly committed to its alliance with Egypt despite its reprimand. The U.S. recently approved two major military sales to Egypt to the tune of a total amount of $2.5 billion. The large U.S.-Egyptian military deal involves the delivery of 12 C-130 J Super Hercules transports for the Egyptian air force. 

Sarah Holewinski, Washington director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the Biden administration’s expected reduction in military aid to Egypt but stressed that it was insufficient. 

“This was the right decision. Egypt’s atrocious human rights record should leave no room for compromises from the U.S. government. But we also saw $2.5 billion in U.S. arms sales to Egypt notified this same week…. It’s not much more than a slap on the wrist given those handouts,” said a disappointed Holewinski. 

Nevertheless, the State Department defended the controversial decision to green light the recent large military agreement with Cairo. 

“They’re sort of emblematic in the types of things we would like to see Egypt procuring because these are things that have direct relations to U.S. security interests more broadly,” stated an unnamed State Department official.

With a population of 100 million people, Egypt is the most populous state in the Middle East and is critical to Washington’s security interests in the region.

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