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President Joe Biden speaks about foreign policy, at the State Department in Washington, February 4, 2021.  © 2021 AP Photo/Evan Vucci

(Washington, DC) – The Biden Administration’s decision to hold back $130 million in Fiscal Year 2021 Foreign Military Financing to Egypt based on the government’s human rights record does not sufficiently respond to its ongoing repression and rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said today. The State Department announced the decision on September 15, 2022.

Last year, the administration withheld the same amount for Fiscal Year 2020, citing the Egyptian government’s failure to end the unjust detentions of or drop the charges against 16 Egyptians and completely close the decade-old Case 173 that targets civil society. The Biden Administration is the first to adhere to the Congressionally mandated human rights conditions put on a portion of the $1.3 billion in annual US security assistance to Egypt. Previous administrations used a “national security waiver,” contending that withholding funds would damage US interests. 

In December 2020, the US Congress conditioned $225 million in Foreign Military Financing for Fiscal Year 2021 on the Egyptian government taking several actions. They included “sustained and effective steps” to strengthen human rights, protect freedom of expression, association, and assembly, and hold security forces accountable. Separately, the appropriations legislation mandates Congress to withhold an additional $75 million if the Egyptian government does not make strides in releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process. The Biden administration is releasing that $75 million for progress it says Egypt has made on the issue of political prisoners, though repression of the political opposition remains severe, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has created a human rights crisis in Egypt, and funding held by the United States last year did not go far enough to change that,” said Nicole Widdersheim, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s a positive sign that the United States is using its leverage to address human rights abuses, but President Biden should go further to show that he’s truly standing with human rights defenders and other victims of Egyptian repression.”  

The human rights situation in Egypt has not fundamentally improved since last year, Human Rights Watch said. Case 173 – a notorious court proceeding in which Egypt is prosecuting rights organizations over allegedly receiving foreign funds – remains open, and arbitrary detention, arrests, travel bans, targeting of independent media outlets, and harassment of civil society have continued unabated. Human Rights Watch and other local and international human rights organizations wrote to President Biden on August 8 urging him withhold the military assistance and suspend arms sales due to Egypt’s failure to improve its human rights situation.

Human Rights Watch recently documented likely extrajudicial executions of suspected militants in North Sinai, moves to curtail environmental groups’ ability to carry out independent policy and advocacy, and the imposition of arbitrary travel bans on key members of civil society. Egypt has also limited the work of civil society essential to protecting the country’s environment in the run-up to COP27 – the global conference on climate change that Egypt will host in November.

“Egyptian activists and civil society groups have been pummeled by wave after wave of arrests, travel bans, unfair trials, and other means of repression,” Widdersheim said. “The Biden administration should say enough is enough and consistently ratchet up the pressure until substantial human rights improvements are clear.”

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