President Barack Obama has quietly criticized Congress’ proposed $1.5 billion aid package to Egypt, sending legislators a report on declining human rights in the country.
But Obama’s administration has offered no alternatives: a memo signed by Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges the aid is “important to the national security interest of the United States” despite Egypt’s flagrant abuses of power.
The report was sent to Congress in May, and made public this week by The New York Times. In it, Kerry says “the overall trajectory for rights and democracy has been negative” since President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi ousted a Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.
In the name of security and counterterrorism, officials have sentenced the deposed Islamist president to death, killed secular protesters, shut down gatherings at soccer games, banned certain news outlets and increased prosecution of vague crimes such as “insulting religion” and “undermining national security.” (RELATED: ‘Reformed’ Egypt Will Still Bust You For Blasphemy)
Egypt has also delayed elections to its parliament, which were originally scheduled for March and April. They were then tentatively planned for May or June, then postponed until at least after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which will end in mid-July.
The parliament was dissolved in 2013. Egypt’s Minister of Transitional Justice recently stated that he had “no intention” of delaying the election, although the date was ultimately in the hands of another government body, the State Council. (RELATED: This Facebook Page Is Pretty Much The Only Way To Mock The Dictator Of Egypt)
Since 2011’s revolution, U.S. lawmakers have tried to condition portions of aid to Egypt on specific improvements to human rights. But the State Department invariably issues a waiver each year stating that the aid is essential to U.S. security interests. The House Appropriations Committee has likewise suspended the conditions every year that the foreign aid bill has been restricted.
$1.3 billion of this year’s $1.5-billion proposed aid package is specifically military aid.
Human rights advocate Neil Hicks expressed frustration with this scenario in an article on Monday for Defense One. Quoting a speech Obama made earlier this year, he wrote that Egypt’s crackdown on dissent is “creating an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.” Instead of protecting Egyptians, in other words, Sissi’s repressive policies are giving fodder to the Muslim Brotherhood he hopes so desperately to eradicate.
Before the 2011 revolution’s advocates topped President Hosni Mubarak demanding fair treatment under the law, Washington routinely turned a blind eye to Egypt’s human rights abuses. But the last four years’ turmoil in both Egypt and the rest of the region have clearly made some policymakers exasperated, wishing for the simpler days of 2011.
As Rep. Kay Granger, chair of the relevant Appropriations subcommittee, told Middle East news site Al-Monitor: “What we want to do with Egypt is return to the way it was.”
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