Biden officials voice support for US assistance to Egypt amid criticisms of human rights

Biden officials voice support for US assistance to Egypt amid criticisms of human rights
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The Biden administration is voicing support for the U.S. and Egyptian security relationship as Congress debates restricting funds over concerns about human rights abuses and the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society. 

Top officials from the Department of Defense and State Department on Tuesday stressed the importance of continued U.S. security assistance to Egypt even as the Biden administration raises concerns over Cairo’s assault on human rights.  

“The bottom line for President BidenJoe BidenJan. 6 panel lays out criminal contempt case against Bannon Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by the American Petroleum Institute — Democrats address reports that clean energy program will be axed Two House Democrats to retire ahead of challenging midterms MORE is that he values the relationship with Egypt, he believes they are an important security partner,” said Dana Stroul, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, during a hearing with the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Middle East. 

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Mira Resnick, deputy assistant secretary for Regional Affairs in the bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said that U.S. officials have raised concerns over human rights in Egypt at the “highest level” of the government, but stressed that Egypt is a “critical security partner.”

“The president himself has underscored the importance of a constructive dialogue on human rights with the government of Egypt and we will continue to pursue this, even as we pursue shared security goals on maritime security, on border security, on counter terrorism,” she said.  

The administration points to Egypt's critical partnership on these fronts, its management of the Suez Canal as essential in ensuring commercial and military maritime traffic, and its leadership in achieving a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip to halt devastating fighting that occurred in May.  

But Democratic lawmakers are increasingly raising concern over human rights abuses in Egypt as the Senate prepares to take up foreign policy spending bills that include the decision over whether to fully finance $1.3 billion in security assistance to the Egyptian government. 

The House last month passed its version of the annual foreign policy appropriations package fully funding the $1.3 billion in security assistance through 2023, despite calls from Reps. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiUS Chamber targets more House Democrats with ads opposing .5T bill Journalist Dave Levinthal discusses 'uptick' in congressional stock trade violations Pandora Papers: 4 takeaways from massive leak of world leaders' finances MORE (D-N.J.) and Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffParis Hilton to visit Capitol Hill to advocate for bill on children's treatment centers Schiff says holding Bannon in criminal contempt 'a way of getting people's attention' Schiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House MORE (D-Calif.) to cut $75 million in assistance to Egypt over its detention of as many as 60,000 political prisoners and criticism of Sisi's government for harassing American citizens. 

Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyExpats plead with US to deliver COVID-19 vaccines Growing number of Democrats endorse abolishing debt limit altogether Senate approves short-term debt ceiling increase MORE (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate panel on the Middle East and a member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, is calling for the administration to withhold a waiver that delivers $300 million in military assistance that is used to override concerns about human rights.

The senator on Tuesday criticized the Egyptian military as focusing “more on internal repression than on regional security.”

“This is a country that is receiving significant U.S. aid, $1.3 billion a year, and in the midst of a dizzying crackdown on political dissent,” he said. He further raised the issue of Egypt’s two-year imprisonment of Egyptian-American human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, who was released to the U.S. in 2015, as an example of the government’s abhorrent human rights abuses. 

“They would throw sick prisoners into his cell — dying, sick prisoners, let them die there, and let the corpse sit and rot inside his solitary confinement cell as a means to try and break him,” Murphy said. “That’s the kind of behavior we empower when we continue to send $1.3 billion to that regime.”

Federal law requires the secretary of State to certify the Egyptian government is taking "sustained and effective steps" in strengthening the rule of law, democratic institutions and respect for human rights in order to release $300 million in foreign military financing. 

But the secretary can bypass the certification by issuing a waiver that it is in the national security interest of the U.S. to fully fund military assistance. Former secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoState Department watchdog probing whether Trump aides took gifts meant for foreign officials Biden shows little progress with Abraham Accords on first anniversary Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE issued the waiver for Egypt in July 2020, a congressional Democratic aide confirmed to The Hill, despite initially considering withholding the waiver over the death of an American citizen imprisoned in Egypt in January of that year.

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenOvernight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Nation mourns Colin Powell Top US envoy to Afghanistan resigns Powell death leads to bipartisan outpouring of grief MORE is expected to submit his determination to Congress over Egypt's human rights record and the administration's decision over whether to issue a waiver to allow the $300 million to proceed, although the exact timing is not yet known.