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Sunday, 10 September 2017

US Senate appropriations committee withholds military, economic aid to Egypt

The US Senate’s Foreign Aid Appropriations Committee approved withholding militaryand economic aid to Egypt in FY2018, according to a copy of the bill published on the committee’s website (pdf). (The meat starts on page 185.) The bill stipulates withholding 25% of the USD 1 bn in military assistance given to Egypt and would see the aid withheld “until the Secretary of State certifies and reports … that [Egypt] is taking effective steps to advance democracy and human rights in Egypt … [and] implement reforms that protect freedoms of expression.”

The committee spells out in quite some detail what it wants, including the release of political prisoners, holding security officers accountable for alleged rights violations, investigating extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances (including that of Italian PhD student Giulio Regeni), and granting US officials access to monitor where the aid is directed.

Funds for border security, counterterrorism and non-proliferation programs would not be impacted by the freeze, if it were to come into effect.

The bill also requires the US Secretary of State to withhold economic aid — for which it appropriates USD 75 mn — until the conviction handed down by the Cairo Criminal Court in the 2012 “Foreign Funding Case” for NGOs are quashed or set aside. The focus on civil society is not surprising considering the criticism three Republican Senators — including Senator Lindsey Graham, who presented the appropriations bill to the Senate — leveled at the NGOs law ratified earlier this year.

Get out of jail free card: As is in previous years, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has the right to waive the certification requirement if he demonstrates and justifies that “to do so is important to the national security interest of the United States.”

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid issued a statement on Thursday stressing that Congress has yet to reach a final decision on the appropriations, and that the bill is still being negotiated internally between the Senate and the House of Representatives. According to Abu Zeid, the House of Representatives passed its version of the FY2018 appropriations bill without reducing aid to Egypt. The story is receiving reasonably wide coverage in the international press.

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