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Days after massive arms deal, US halts Egypt military aid over human rights concerns

State Department says Cairo has not met conditions to receive $130 million in foreign military financing; US on Tuesday approved $2.5 billion sale of military planes and radars

A man walks in front of a billboard for Egyptian President Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with Arabic that reads, Long live Egypt, at the annual Cairo International Book Fair, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
A man walks in front of a billboard for Egyptian President Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with Arabic that reads, Long live Egypt, at the annual Cairo International Book Fair, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration said Friday it was canceling $130 million in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns. The announcement comes just days after the administration approved a massive $2.5 billion arms sale to the country.

The State Department said Friday that Egypt had not met the conditions to receive the $130 million in foreign military financing that has been on hold since September. It said the money would be shifted to other programs. It did not elaborate.

In announcing the cancellation, the department made no mention of the $2.5 billion sale of military transport planes and radar systems that it had approved Tuesday without any mention of the frozen $130 million.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in September approved the release of $300 million in foreign military financing to Egypt but withheld another $130 million unless the government addressed “specific human-rights related conditions” by the end of January.

“The deadline for meeting those conditions will soon pass,” the department said. “The (government of Egypt) made notable progress on the conditions but to date has not met them all. Therefore, after January 30, the secretary intends to reprogram the $130 million to other national security priorities.”

Asked about the apparent inconsistency, US.officials have said the military aid and the arms sale are unrelated. They say Egypt will shoulder the cost of the $2.2 billion purchase of the 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and air defense radar systems worth an estimated $355 million.

In this still image taken from video provided by the Egyptian military, an Egyptian fighter jet takes off from an undisclosed location in Egypt to strike militant hideouts in the Libyan city of Darna, Friday, May 26, 2017. (Egyptian military via AP)

Congressional Democrats who had urged Blinken not to approve the $130 million were pleased with Friday’s decision, but did not address the arms sale that dwarfs the amount of the withheld assistance.

“I’m glad the Biden administration held the line by reprogramming these funds,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “It sends the important message abroad that we will back up our commitment to human rights with action and gone are the days where dictators receive blank checks from America.”

On Tuesday, the State Department announced the $2.5 billion arms sale, saying it would “support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally country that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East.”

“We maintain that 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 department said.

Egypt’s government has in recent years waged a wide-scale crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people, mainly Islamists but also secular activists who were involved in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled the country’s longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Illustrative: Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists gesture from the defendants cage as they receive sentences in a mass trial in Alexandria, Egypt, May 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Heba Khamis)

Egypt imposed a state of emergency in April 2017, following deadly church bombings and attacks on Coptic Christians that killed more than 100 people and wounded scores. It allowed for arrests without warrants, swift prosecution of suspects and the establishment of special courts.

The state of emergency has since been extended several times. However, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced in October, when the last extension expired, that his government will no longer renew it.

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