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In Policy Reversal, U.S. Withholds Aid to Egypt

The move comes as a surprise from an administration that stressed stability over human rights.

egypt aid

The United States is delaying $195 million in military aid and cancelling $95.7 million in other aid to Egypt over human rights concerns, and in particular over a new law that regulates NGOs.

The move represents an abrupt about-face for an administration that had signalled previously it would support Egypt regardless of its dismal human rights record.

President Donald Trump gave Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi a warm welcome at the White House in April, saying, “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President el-Sisi.”

But later that same month, regional experts from previous U.S. administrations testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, arguing that Egypt was behaving badly in the way of human rights, and that the United States was giving it more money than was necessary or appropriate given the value of the military relationship at present. (Egypt, with its $1.3 billion in aid, is the second largest recipient of aid from the United States. Israel is the first.)

“The U.S. doesn’t have a way to ensure our assistance is not making the problem worse,” Michele Dunne, a longtime Middle East expert at the State Department now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said at that hearing.

“Is our investment in Egypt appropriate? My strong view is that it is completely out of balance,” offered Tom Malinowski, formerly Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

Whether the Trump administration was listening to Dunne and Malinowski specifically, the White House has changed course. The administration was reportedly taken aback in May with Sisi’s ratification of legislation widely seen as a crackdown on dissenting civil society organizations. On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, to let him know the administration’s decision.

The Egyptian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Shoukry’s ministry, in a statement, said the U.S. decision reflected “poor judgement” and adopted “a view that lacks an accurate understanding of the importance of supporting Egypt’s stability.” It also cancelled a Wednesday meeting with Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor who is also his son-in-law. Kushner is still set to meet with Sisi.

Photo credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin