Members of security forces keep watch in Tahrir Square during the fifth anniversary of the uprising that ended the 30-year reign of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, Egypt, January 25, 2016.

© 2016 Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

This week, the Trump administration restored US$195 million in military aid to Egypt despite an intensifying crackdown on human rights by the Egyptian authorities.

The decision to reinstate the funds adds insult to injury for the human rights defenders and activists bearing the brunt of the government’s crackdown in Egypt to preserve the last remaining un-eroded space for peaceful opposition. Moreover, it severely harms the United States’ own interests as it shows that the US could use human rights as a cover up for other political interests. 

When the Trump administration withheld the funds over a year ago, it did not say publicly what benchmarks Egypt needed to meet for them to be released. But the decision to withhold funds sent an important signal of US concern about the government’s assault on Egyptian civil society. The decision to release the funds despite a significant deterioration in the rights situation in Egypt is both baffling and troubling.

Egypt has not repealed or amended the draconian 2017 NGO law, and it has continued levelling bogus charges against activists and banning them from leaving the country. When the State Department justifies the decision by saying that Egypt has taken steps “over the last year in response to specific U.S. concerns,” it’s clear to those watching closely that those steps do not include anything meaningful on human rights.

Not only does the administration’s decision to release this military aid to Cairo send the wrong message to one of the most abusive governments in Egypt’s recent history, it also does so during a time when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is leading a multi-year military campaign in the country’s Sinai Peninsula, where Human Rights Watch has documented serious violations against civilians.