It took an old Democratic senator to stop US arms shipments to Egypt. His name is Patrick Leahy, he’s 82 years old and in his eighth term as Vermont’s representative. Leahy, days earlier, blocked the transfer of $75 million (about 77 million euros) in US military aid to Cairo due to concerns about the human rights situation under the regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Egypt receives about $1.3 billion annually in US military aid. Although there are no restrictions on the maximum amount, a share is subject to conditions based on legislation passed by Congress in 2021. Last September, the US State Department authorized an additional $75 million in payments, citing progress by the Egyptian government on political prisoners and due process, including the release of 500 prisoners by 2022. But Senator Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, rejected the State Department assessment that justified military support.
Leahy leaders have the authority to make spending laws, including US aid to Egypt. “We need to take this law very seriously because the situation of political prisoners in Egypt is deplorable,” the Democratic senator explained. “We cannot undermine the terms because of other political considerations. We all have a responsibility in the United States and in Egypt to uphold the rule of law and protect the rights of the accused to a fair trial.
The conditions imposed by Congress last year require Egypt to make “clear and consistent progress” in freeing political prisoners and ensure that prisoners receive a fair trial. As the $75 million loan expires on September 30, negotiations between Leahy’s office and the State Department have not resolved the issue.
Since al-Sisi came to power in a military coup in 2013, there has been continued unease in Washington over the president’s treatment of opponents of his rule. Human rights organizations estimate that there are about 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt.
Hundreds of detainees died in pre-trial detention, with humanitarian organizations citing medical negligence and poor conditions as the cause of many deaths. According to a report by Amnesty International, Egypt executed at least 356 people in 2021, making it the world’s leading executioner. Al-Sisi has always denied the existence of political prisoners in the country. And he framed the crackdown as part of the fight against terrorism.
Between 2013 and 2020, the number one arms exporter to Egypt was France, followed by Russia and the United States. The European Parliament, in 2016, called for an end to cooperation with Cairo on security matters. He also called on EU member states to put an end to the “short-sighted and delusional attitude towards the Egyptian security forces”. But the export of munitions continued as if nothing had happened. In Brussels, they may need someone like Leahy.
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