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Wednesday, 23 August 2017

US withholds USD 290 mn in military aid to Egypt

US to withhold over USD 290 mn in civilian and military aid to Egypt? The US government has reportedly decided to withhold nearly USD 300 mn in aid to Egypt — most of it earmarked for military programs — “because of its failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms,” two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters in a story that broke overnight. The news has yet to be made official. Of the USD 290 mn, some USD 30 mn was earmarked for economic support, with the balance allegedly set to be trimmed from military financing programs. Most of the funds will “now go into an account where it will be held pending Egyptian improvement on human rights and democracy.”

Lost patience? The Reuters piece has largely been corroborated by independent reporting from the Associated Press, which also fell back on anonymous sources. The key question is whether this is a case of lower level staffers boxing in the White House and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, or whether as reported Tillerson chose to issue a “waiver saying that USD 195 mn [in aid] to Egypt is in the U.S. national interest, but had decided to hold off on spending it.”
Despite warming relations between President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and US President Donald Trump, Egypt’s president came under fire from US senators earlier this year after he ratified a controversial NGOs bill, which international rights groups and activists widely viewed as repressive. US officials had said last month that the proposal to cut aid was on the table but not yet final.

US law requires the administration “to withhold 15%, or USD 195 mn, of the USD 1.3 bn it gives Egypt annually” in military aid for human rights issues. The Obama administration had gone so far as to freeze aid to Egypt for two years in 2013, after mass protests expelled Islamist president Mohammed Morsi from office. With Egypt being one of the US’s main allies in the region, “the decision reflects a US desire to continue security cooperation as well as frustration with Cairo’s stance on civil liberties,” Reuters says.

Rights groups including NYC-based Human Rights First welcomed the news, which is getting widespread pickup in the international press this morning.

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