US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has authorised the release of $1.2 billion in military aid to Egypt, overriding previous human rights concerns that had held up funding.
The figure includes $1 billion for the current 2018 budget year and $195 million earmarked for 2017 which would have been returned to the treasury had it not been spent by the end of the month.
The State Department informed Congress of the move on Friday; congressmen have 15 days to contest the national security waivers allowing the money, known as foreign military financing (FMF), to be delivered.
In July, Pompeo also lifted $195 million in FMF that was originally listed for 2016, but which former secretary of state Rex Tillerson had frozen due to the continuing concerns over the state of human rights under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
The Trump administration still has “serious concerns about the human rights situation in Egypt” and will continue to raise those concerns with senior Egyptian officials, the State Department said in a statement.
“At the same time, strengthened security cooperation with Egypt is important to US national security. Secretary Pompeo determined that continuing with the obligation and expenditure of these FMF funds is important to strengthening our security cooperation with Egypt,” it concluded.
Human rights groups have condemned the move as giving a green light to abuse and torture.
“Sending more military aid is just doubling down on July’s terrible decision,” US-based Human Rights First said in a statement. “This is a clear signal that the Trump Administration is more than okay with President Sisi’s targeting of human rights defenders. Green lights don’t come much bigger than this.”
Washington’s suspension of US aid to Egypt last year was unexpected given the close ties between Al-Sisi and US President Donald Trump.
At the time, Tillerson stated that the administration had not been able to certify that Egypt had met the human rights criteria set by Congress in order to receive the American assistance.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both described the situation in Egypt as the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades, with the state systematically using torture, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence political dissent.
Last year, the Egyptian government pledged to take action against Human Rights Watch after it released a damning report on state torture. The Egyptian Human Rights Committee denied the allegations, claiming that no political prisoners had ever reported incidents of torture.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has also previously stated that human rights should not be judged from a Western perspective, arguing that Egypt had taken numerous measures to ensure the economic and social wellbeing of its citizens.
An Egyptian court on Saturday issued death sentences for 75 people, including prominent Islamist leaders, and jailed more than 600 others over a 2013 sit-in which ended with the killing of hundreds of protesters by security forces. The sentencing concluded the mass trial of some 700 people accused of offences including murder and inciting violence during the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protest at Rabaa Adawiya square in Cairo.
Egypt seems to be intensifying its crackdown on opponents with a new law. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved the legislation, authorizing officials to monitor social media users. As reported by the official gazette on Saturday, the new law gives state authorities the right to monitor the activities of social media users on the internet. The legislation, it said, places social media accounts with over 5,000 followers under the supervision of the Supreme Council for the Administration of the Media.
When she went to Egypt for vacation, Mona el-Mazbouh surely didn’t expect to end up in prison. But after the 24-year-old Lebanese tourist posted a video in which she complained of sexual harassment—calling Egypt a lowly, dirty country and its citizens “pimps and prostitutes”—el-Mazbouh was arrested at Cairo’s airport and found guilty of deliberately spreading false rumors that would harm society, attacking religion, and public indecency. She was sentenced to eight years in prison.
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