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U.S. to hold $130 million of Egypt’s military aid over alleged human rights issue

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Washington (Reuters) – The Biden administration will withhold $130 million worth of military aid to Egypt to pressure its Arab ally to allegedly improve its human rights record, two sources familiar with the matter, including a U.S. official, said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s move will be a break with his predecessors’ policy of overriding a congressional check on military aid to Egypt. In the past, an exception was granted to free up $300 million in Foreign Military Financing for Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s government on the basis that it was in the interest of U.S. national security.

A portion of the financing, $130 million, will be withheld on human rights concerns but will be available in future fiscal years if Egypt improves its record, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Human rights groups, which had called on the administration to withhold the entire amount, called the move “a betrayal” of U.S. commitments to put human rights front and center in its foreign policy, and specifically with Egypt.

“If the administration’s dedication to human rights were sincere, this decision would have been simple: withhold the $300 million in military aid as conditioned by Congress to incentivize al-Sisi to change course,” said a joint statement from nearly two dozen rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“Instead, the administration chose to ignore its commitment to human rights by evading the legislative conditions,” it added.

Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013, has overseen a crackdown on dissent that has tightened in recent years. He denies there are political prisoners in Egypt and says stability and security are paramount.

President Joe Biden has pledged to put human rights at the heart of his foreign policy and rights advocates have been pushing Washington to get tougher on Sisi, even though ties with Egypt have improved after Cairo’s mediation to help end hostilities in April between Israel and Hamas militants.

Criticism from rights groups on Biden’s commitment to promote rights and freedoms worldwide is not limited to Egypt.

They say while his increased emphasis on the issue is an improvement from the position of his predecessor Donald Trump – who praised authoritarian leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin – Biden has so far refrained from impactful action.

Sources said a formal announcement on the Egypt decision could come later this week.

A State Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Politico reported the move late on Monday.

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