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US Senator Murphy sounds off against unconditional aid to Egypt

Giving $1.3bn in aid to Egypt would send a message that America 'isn't willing to do much' about democracy, says Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, has been a vocal critic of US foreign policy in the region (AFP/File photo)
By in
Washington

US Senator Chris Murphy has told the Biden administration that if it is serious about promoting human rights globally, then it must cut military aid to Egypt.

In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday, Murphy urged US President Joe Biden against issuing a national security waiver to deliver the full aid promised to Cairo against congressional demands.

Congress has been imposing human rights conditions on $300m of the $1.3bn annual military aid to Egypt, but successive administrations have issued national security waivers to bypass the restrictions.

"This year, the United States must withhold the $300 million in accordance with the law passed by this Congress," Murphy said. 

"It will send a message to Egypt that we're serious about reform - and maybe more importantly, it will send a message to the world that we are willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk."

'Why is Russia sanctioned but not Egypt?'

The senator, a Connecticut Democrat, has been one of the most vocal critics on the Hill of US foreign policy in the Middle East, including warm ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that ignore human rights.

"It's painfully clear the lesson Egypt has learned over the years is a simple one: 'America's not serious about human rights, and so we don't need to invest in improvements, we're going to get the money anyway'," Murphy said on Wednesday.

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He invoked Egyptian abuses against Americans, including the ongoing harassment campaign against the relatives of Washington-based human rights activist Mohamed Soltan and the death of US citizen Moustafa Kassem in Egyptian detention last year.

Murphy likened the policy of targeting dissidents' families to the behaviour of Russia's Vladimir Putin.

He added: "So why you might ask, is Egypt our partner and Russia our adversary, if their behavior is so malignantly similar? Why does Russia get sanctioned and Egypt gets showered with $1.3 billion in military aid each year?"

Biden came into office earlier this year with bold promises of centring human rights in US foreign policy and moving away from his predecessor Donald Trump's embrace of the autocrat.

"No more blank checks for Trump's 'favorite dictator'," he wrote on Twitter last year, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

'No strings attached'

Since ascending to power after a 2013 coup against democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi, Sisi has ruled with an iron fist, criminalising virtually all forms of political opposition and jailing dissidents by the thousands.

Last year, Egypt had the third-largest number of executions in the world, with dozens of political prisoners still on death row.

But beyond mentioning human rights in passing in diplomatic statements, the US administration has not substantially altered Washington's relations with Cairo.

In fact, after the Israeli offensive on Gaza in May, Biden and his top aides heaped praise on Sisi, crediting him for helping secure a ceasefire.

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"Let's be clear," Murphy said on Wednesday, "an administration that wants to lead on democracy and human rights cannot send another $1.3 billion to Egypt with no strings attached. 

"To do so would be to endorse Sisi's practices and send a bright blinking message to the world that America talks a big game on democracy, but isn't willing to do much about it."

In April, 14 human rights groups - including Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) - also called on Biden to refrain from issuing a waiver to deliver the full $1.3bn in aid to Egypt.

"By refusing to waive these conditions, the United States will send a clear message that it is serious about its commitment to supporting human rights abroad, that it will follow through on its promises, and that respect for human rights is inextricably linked to US national security," the advocacy organisations said in a letter to the administration.