The lawmakers assert that Egypt's government "has not only failed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, it has also continued to commit 'significant human rights' violations."
Echoing calls from nearly two dozen advocacy groups, 11 U.S. senators on Friday urged the Biden administration to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid from Egypt "absent improvements on human rights" in a nation where thousands of dissidents are imprisoned and almost all forms of political opposition have been crushed.
The senators—who include 10 Democrats and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont—sent a letter led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to Secretary of State Antony Blinken citing Egypt's deteriorating human rights situation while calling on the administration to withhold $320 million in U.S. military assistance.
The U.S. government conditions the bulk of that aid on Egypt taking "sustained and effective steps" to:
- Strengthen the rule of law and democratic institutions and protect women and religious minorities;
- Protect fundamental freedoms, including the ability of NGOs and media to operate freely;
- Hold security forces accountable when they violate human rights;
- Investigate and prosecute cases of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances; and
- Provide regular access to U.S. officials to areas where U.S. assistance is used.
"Over the past year, the Egyptian government's track record on these criteria has not improved," the senators' letter asserts. "Ahead of presidential elections scheduled next year, the Egyptian government has detained supporters and family members of a challenger who intends to run against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The government has forced NGOs to register under a draconian law that prohibits any activities it deems political."
The letter adds that Egypt's government "has not only failed to investigate allegations of human rights abuses, it has also continued to commit 'significant human rights' violations such as extrajudicial killings; enforced disappearance; torture and life-threatening prison conditions; and severe restrictions on freedoms of expression, assembly, and association as documented in the State Department's latest human rights report."
The lawmakers' letter came on the same day that 23 human rights and civil society groups also implored the Biden administration to withhold the $320 million in military aid, accusing Egypt of perpetrating a "merciless crackdown on the press, political opposition, and civil society."
"The Egyptian government's actions in recent months demonstrate that it has not halted its repression campaign or delivered on commitments to meaningfully improve the human rights situation," the groups—which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Democracy for the Arab World Now, and Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)—said in a letter.
"Pressure works," POMED tweeted Friday. "Over the past two years, the administration's decision to reprogram some of the conditioned military aid to Egypt has led its government to take limited, albeit insufficient, steps to address U.S. concerns—without undermining the bilateral relationship."