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US to reschedule military aid to Egypt due to rights record, lawmakers say

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The Biden administration will reschedule some of Egypt’s annual military assistance, sources in Congress said Friday.

“We can confirm that the State Department will reschedule $130 million of [foreign military financing] related to certain human rights criteria as defined last year which have not been fully respected by Egypt,” a spokesperson for the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Al-Monitor. .

The State Department said in September it would freeze $130 million in foreign military funding to Egypt unless the North African country adheres to certain rights-related criteria before the deadline for administration of January 30. The conditions, which have not been made public, required Egypt to release or drop charges against a number of activists, as well as end a decade-long investigation into civil society groups.

Egypt has released some, but not all, of the prisoners named by the administration, and has not closed the extensive investigation known as Case 173.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter told Al-Monitor in a conference call with reporters on Friday that the United States had “not yet made a decision about the $130 million foreign military funding”.

Porter’s comments came hours after Democratic Senator Chris Murphy confirmed in a statement that the administration had opted to reschedule the aid, and multiple sources told Al-Monitor that State Department officials had informed the Congressional Appropriations Offices this week that Egypt did not have to meet the administration’s Sunday deadline.

Why is this important: The reprogramming of aid is a somewhat symbolic gesture. At $130 million, it represents just 10% of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid Egypt receives from the United States.

Biden entered office promising “no more blank checks” to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian general-turned-president who enjoyed a warm relationship with President Donald Trump. Biden administration says human rights are ‘at the center’ of US-Egyptian relations, but also highlights Egypt’s regional security cooperation, including its role in brokering a ceasefire May 2021 fire between Israel and Hamas.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed human rights during a phone call with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Thursday, according to a State Department statement.

The moment: The State Department’s recent approval of $2.5 billion in arms sales to Egypt has clouded its human rights message, advocacy groups say. The potential sale, which includes 12 C-130 Super Hercules transport planes, was announced hours after House Democrats warned Blinken about Cairo’s human rights record and intervened on the same day that Egypt celebrated the anniversary of its January 25 uprising.

The reaction: Murphy tweeted that blocking the $130 million funding “was the right decision, and the one I pushed the administration to make. America needs to put its money where its mouth is on human rights in Egypt” .

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks also welcomed the decision. “I called on the State Department to keep its word and hold Egypt accountable for continued human rights abuses and violations of fundamental freedoms. I am encouraged by the administration’s decision to do so,” Meeks said in a statement to Al-Monitor.

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not return a request for comment.

Know more: Blinken has faced pressure from Congress to reprogram the frozen funds, as reported by Al-Monitor here. For more context, here is our report on the administration’s decision in September to release military aid to Egypt.