US Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the new Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the US Senate, on Tuesday blocked military aid to Egypt worth $235 million due to its human rights record, in a move that comes after the judiciary brought corruption charges against his predecessor, Bob Menendez, in a bribery case linked to Egypt.
The Democratic senator said in a statement that he informed Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he wouldn’t release these funds unless Cairo made tangible progress in the field of human rights.
He added, “I believe it’s necessary to continue holding the Egyptian government and all governments accountable for their violations of human rights”.
Cardin stressed that aid will continue to be withheld from Egypt if it doesn’t take concrete, purposeful and sustainable steps to improve the human rights situation in the country.
The Senator specifically called on the Egyptian authorities to issue an amnesty to a larger number of political prisoners, whose number is estimated at 60,000 in this country.
He also demanded that Egypt undertake significant reforms in pre-detention procedures and provide more space for the political opposition, civil society and independent media.
The US State Department announced last September that it had agreed to provide military aid to Egypt for the next year worth $1.215 billion, despite Washington’s concerns about human rights violations.
The action taken by Cardin relates to $235 million, the release of which Congress had linked to progress in the field of human rights.
This is the third year in a row that President Joe Biden’s administration has waived some restrictions imposed by Congress on annual military aid allocated to Egypt.
The US administration agreed to these concessions despite Biden’s pledge to make human rights a basic pillar of US foreign policy.
Egypt has become a major beneficiary of US military aid since its historic decision in 1980 to become the first Arab country to normalize its relations with Israel.
The military aid package consists of an unrestricted part worth $980 million.
The other part, worth $235 million, is contingent on Egypt making progress in the field of human rights, and this is the part that Senator Cardin blocked.
The US secretary of State, Antony Blinken didn’t acknowledge that Egypt met these conditions in order to benefit from this amount, but he nevertheless refused to deprive it of this fund on the grounds of protecting US national security interests.
However, Blinken withheld another sum of $85 million from Egypt and linked his release to Cairo’s release of political prisoners.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi launched a national dialogue with the opposition that he suppressed after coming to power, and in April 2022 he also began releasing political prisoners.
But the pace has slowed significantly this year, according to what a US official said.
According to US officials, Egypt has witnessed an increase in politically motivated arrests, as there are thousands of political prisoners in Egypt currently.
The Presidential Pardon Commission released a thousand people in one year, but three times that number were arrested at the same time, according to non-governmental organizations.