US cuts, delays $300m in aid to Egypt, citing rights

2017-08-23 13:31
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Washington -  The Trump administration on Tuesday cut nearly $100m in military and economic aid to Egypt and delayed almost $200m more in military financing to Egypt, pending human rights improvements and action to ease harsh restrictions on civic and other non-governmental groups.

The moves underscore the administration's delicate diplomacy with Egypt, which has been widely criticized for its rights record and yet is a staunch counterterrorism partner.

Officials said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had decided to withhold $65.7m in military assistance and $30m in economic aid to Egypt that has been on hold since fiscal 2014, the officials said.

That money will be reprogrammed, meaning it will now be sent to other countries, they said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress had not been formally notified of the decision.

At the same time, the officials said Rex Tillerson had signed a waiver saying that $195m in military assistance to Egypt is in the US national interest but had decided to hold off on spending it.

Under federal law, Tillerson had until the end of this fiscal year, September 30, to either sign the waiver, certify that Egypt is meeting the human rights conditions or return the money to the Treasury.

The waiver gives Egypt additional time to meet the requirements for the $195m, which Congress appropriated for fiscal year 2016.

The officials stressed that the US continues to consider Egypt a key strategic partner but that it remains seriously concerned about a lack of progress on the human rights front, including the passage of the new law on non-governmental organisations that has been widely criticized for being excessive and used to crackdown on opposition.

The $195m will be held in reserve until Egypt makes progress in those areas, the officials said.

Egypt is the second largest recipient of military aid from the United States after Israel, receiving about $1.3bn annually and the officials noted that the US has provided nearly $80bn in military and economic assistance to Egypt over the past 30 years.

They said the US would continue to support Egypt's efforts to defeat extremists and terrorism as well as the country's economic development.

Tillerson's dual decisions reflect a difficult balancing act that the administration is playing with Egypt. President Donald Trump has signaled his approval of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi's tough stance against terrorism yet many members of the administration, including Tillerson, and numerous lawmakers harbor serious doubts about his rights record and commitment to democratic reform.

When Trump met with al-Sisi in the White House in April he made no mention of Egypt's human rights record in the post-meeting statement, an omission that many took as a sign that the issue was not a priority for the administration.

Yet, two months later, two senators from Trump's Republican Party slammed as "draconian" the law that effectively bans the work of non-governmental organisations and urged that it be repealed.

The law has triggered wide international backlash and raised concerns over human rights conditions in Egypt. But Egypt has defended the law, saying it was drafted and passed in accordance with constitutional provisions. The Foreign Ministry said the law "supports and empowers civil society."

Al-Sisi is grappling with an insurgency by Islamic militants in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, an economy struggling to keep up with demands and employment needs of Egypt's surging population, and a sustained campaign of violence against the country's Christian minority.

Read more on:    donald trump  |  abdel fattah al sisi  |  egypt  |  us  |  north africa

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