The United States will be withholding roughly $290 million in aid to Egypt due to Cairo’s failure to rein in human rights abuses, Reuters reported Tuesday.
According to the report $95.7 million will be denied and an additional $195 million will be delayed after the government led by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was unable to show progress in promoting democratic norms, in the eyes of the US, Reuters reported citing two sources close to the issue.
The decision was partly in response to Sissi’s May approval of a contentious new law that calls for heavy regulation of Egyptian NGOs, one source told Reuters. Amnesty International called the legislation a “catastrophic blow” that could be a “death sentence” for human rights groups in Egypt.
Spokespeople for the White House and the State Department were not immediately available for comment.
That $195 million be held until Egypt’s record on democracy and civil liberties improves.
“We remain concerned about Egypt’s lack of progress in key areas, including human rights and the new NGO law,” the source told Reuters.
Authorities have led a brutal crackdown on all forms of opposition, at times targeting human rights organizations directly, since then-army chief Sissi overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
The human-rights issue dampened relations between the White House and Cairo under former president Barack Obama, but Donald Trump’s administration appeared to take a different approach to dealing with Sissi almost immediately.
When the Egyptian leader visited Washington in February, Trump told reporters the Egyptian president would be someone “very close to me.” A post-meeting statement cited their mutual commitment to fighting terrorism and strengthening Egypt’s economy, making no mention of Sissi’s crackdown on domestic opponents that has been widely condemned by international rights monitors.
But the civil liberties issue hasn’t been completely ignored by Trump. The US president was said to have used his early sit-down with Sissi to broker the release of a US-Egyptian charity worker who had been in detention in Cairo for over three years on charges human rights groups denounced as “arbitrary.”
The US provides Egypt with some the $1.3 billion each year as part of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Israel receives more than $3 billion. This is not the first time that the US has used its aid to Cairo as a lever.
In 2013 following the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, the US suspended half the aid and withheld military assistance, including 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 missiles and up to 125 tank kits. It was only restored nearly two years later.
Israel has reportedly interceded on behalf of Cairo, asking the US not to cut aid, fearing it could destabilize Egypt and undermine the close security cooperation between the two countries.