Egypt aid

Senate Democrats call to withhold military aid to Egypt over human rights violations

‘Egypt’s human rights record has continued to deteriorate, despite the Egyptian government’s claims to the contrary,’ the letter argues

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken (L) and Foreign Minister of Egypt Sameh Shoukry (R) hold a joint press conference after an inter-delegation meeting in Cairo, Egypt on January 30, 2023.

Eleven Senate Democrats are urging the administration to withhold hundreds of millions in military aid to Egypt in light of ongoing human rights issues in the country.

The lawmakers wrote to Secretary of State Tony Blinken last week urging him to follow through on a provision in the 2022 State Department funding bill instructing that up to $320 million of the $1.3 billion allocated for military aid to Egypt be withheld if Egypt fails to make progress on human rights issues, including rule of law, civil rights, accountability for security forces, extrajudicial killings and disappearances, oversight access for U.S. officials and the release of political prisoners.

“Over the last year, Egypt’s human rights record has continued to deteriorate, despite the Egyptian government’s claims to the contrary,” the letter argues.

The letter was signed by Sens. Chris Murphy (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

The letter also acknowledges the “mutual security concerns that merit the sustainment of our military-to-military relationship” between the U.S. and Egypt, but argues that withholding a portion of U.S. aid would not significantly undermine ties.

“We can continue to support these objectives while enforcing the law to withhold $320 million in military aid to Egypt due to a lack of necessary progress on human rights,” the letter continues. “As the administration’s decision to withhold a portion of Egypt’s $1.3 billion appropriation for each of the last two years demonstrates, the bilateral security relationship can be effectively sustained at a reduced level of assistance while upholding our values.”

The letter suggests that the Egyptian government has taken some measures to address U.S. concerns in response to these aid cuts in the past two years, “but the steps to date have been wholly inadequate.”

The administration did not include the human rights conditionality in its budget request to Congress this year, a decision that created friction with some lawmakers. The House also removed these conditions in its budget proposal for next year.

During a business meeting last week on 2024 government funding, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved an amendment from Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) instructing the State Department to consider the cases of four specific Egyptian detainees in determining whether to withhold a portion of U.S. aid to Egypt next year.

One of the four named is Salah Soltan, an academic and U.S. permanent resident who was arrested in 2013 during the Egyptian government’s crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood and in 2017 was sentenced to life in prison. The United Nations and human rights NGOs say Soltan is arbitrarily detained.

Soltan also has a history of making antisemitic statements, including invoking blood libel against Jews and calling for the deaths of Israeli visitors to Egypt. 

According to a letter, allegedly smuggled out of prison, in which Soltan addressed his newest grandchild, he has renounced and apologized for his antisemitic views. “I had only intended to stand up for justice but what I did resulted in the exact opposite of the intent; and became a reason for further oppression, suffering and marginalization of the innocent. In fact, my oppressors used my decade-old stances to justify and fend off pressure from concerned western parties about my release,” Soltan wrote in the letter.

Cardin, in a Senate floor speech last week, held up Soltan as an individual who has rejected his antisemitic beliefs, who “sees the light and realizes the error of his ways, renounces his past statements and vows never to repeat them.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted in May that he was “deeply concerned” about Soltan’s health and called for his release for “immediate access to lifesaving medical care.”

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