Following the January 30 deadline, the Biden administration decided that it will reprogram $130 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) originally intended for the brutal government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The United States had withheld this military aid since mid-September of last year pending the Egyptian government’s fulfillment of two modest human rights conditions: ending the unjust detentions of or dropping the charges against 16 Egyptians politically targeted by al-Sisi’s government and completely closing the decade-old Case 173 targeting independent civil society.
In light of the Egyptian government’s abject failure to meet the minimal conditions specified by the administration, the undersigned organizations welcome the Biden administration’s decision to reprogram this assistance in full. Upholding the conditions on the aid signals the importance of human rights in the bilateral relationship. But by moving forward with billions of dollars’ worth of security assistance just days before the decision, the strong message that could have been sent by reprogramming assistance has been undermined.
Notably, since September, Egyptian authorities have released a few prominent political prisoners, demonstrating that U.S. pressure can be effective. Yet simultaneously, as civil society forewarned, the Egyptian government has continued perpetrating egregious human rights violations: relentlessly targeting independent media and journalists, cracking down on civil society, repressing political opponents, strong-arming private businesses, and prohibiting protests and free expression. Despite ending the state of emergency on October 25, parliament quickly passed several amendments permanently consolidating the president’s and military’s emergency powers. Trials in front of emergency courts continued, most notably in the case of prominent activist and author Alaa Abdel Fattah, human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim, who were handed lengthy, unappealable prison sentences on bogus charges of spreading “fake news” in December.
Reprogramming the withheld funds could have built important leverage to pressure the Egyptian government to meet basic human rights standards; instead, the Biden administration spectacularly undercut its decision by announcing, just days earlier, more than $2.5 billion in arms sales to Egypt and obligating $1 billion in FY2021 FMF. Denying the ruthless government of President al-Sisi $130 million while moving forward with weapons deals and military aid worth nearly thirty times as much undermines the very purpose of reprogramming the funds. In doing so, the administration also squandered what could have been a meaningful step toward fulfilling its promise to “center” human rights in its relationship with Egypt.
Congress had placed conditions on $300 million in FY2020 FMF. The Biden administration’s decision to bypass those conditions and withhold only $130 million, a move similar to one taken by the Trump administration in 2017, has proved insufficient. Unfortunately, the administration’s recent steps have again failed to adequately respond to the severity of the human rights crisis in Egypt. It is therefore imperative for Congress to step up and make clear that continued U.S. military support for Egypt’s government is contingent on drastic improvements to their human rights record.
Belady An Island for Humanity (BIH)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) Committee For Justice (CFJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR) Egyptian Human Rights Forum
The Freedom Initiative
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) MENA Rights Group
Open Society Policy Center
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)