Egypt an­gered by US aid cut over hu­man rights con­cerns

Sun.Star Pampanga - - WORLD! -

CAIRO

(AP) -- Egypt re­acted an­grily Wed­nes­day to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's de­ci­sion to cut or de­lay nearly $300 mil­lion in mil­i­tary and eco­nomic aid over hu­man rights con­cerns, a sur­prise move given the in­creas­ingly close ties that have bound the two al­lies since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice in Jan­uary.

Hours af­ter the U.S. an­nounce­ment, Trump's Mid­dle East en­voy, son-in-law Jared Kush­ner, ar­rived in Egypt as part of a Mid­dle East tour to try to re­vive Arab-Is­raeli peace talks. He met with Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi and later con­ferred with For­eign Min­is­ter Sameh Shoukry be­fore leav­ing for Is­rael.

In a state­ment, the Egyp­tian For­eign Min­istry said Cairo re­gret­ted the U.S. de­ci­sion, call­ing it a "mis­judg­ment of the na­ture of the strate­gic re­la­tions that have bound the two coun­tries for decades." The move, it said, "re­flects a lack of care­ful un­der­stand­ing of the im­por­tance of sup­port­ing the sta­bil­ity and suc­cess of Egypt, as well as the size and na­ture of the se­cu­rity and eco­nomic chal­lenges faced by the Egyp­tian peo­ple."

It warned that the cuts may have "nega­tive con­se­quences for the re­al­iza­tion of com­mon U.S.Egyp­tian in­ter­ests." It did not elab­o­rate.

How­ever, an Egyp­tian pres­i­den­tial state­ment on Kush­ner's meet­ing with el-Sissi made no men­tion of the aid cuts and de­lays, which to­taled $290.7 mil­lion. El-Sissi, a gen­eral-turned-pres­i­dent who has re­peat­edly stated his ad­mi­ra­tion for Trump, showed none of the frus­tra­tion ex­pressed by the For­eign Min­istry as he smiled while pos­ing for a cer­e­mo­nial photo with Kush­ner in the Egyp­tian leader's op­u­lent Cairo palace.

El-Sissi spoke to Kush­ner and his del­e­ga­tion about "Egypt's keen­ness to con­tinue to work on strength­en­ing the multi-faceted re­la­tions that bind the two coun­tries in var­i­ous fields," the state­ment sai d.

Of the $290.7 mil­lion, $195 mil­lion was mil­i­tary aid that the State De­part­ment said Tiller­son was not able to cer­tify that Egypt had met the hu­man rights cri­te­ria set by Congress in order to re­ceive it. But be­cause Tiller­son signed a so-called na­tional in­ter­est waiver, those funds will re­main avail­able to Egypt as long as it makes hu­man rights im­prove­ments. Had Tiller­son not signed the waiver, the money would have been re­turned to the Trea­sury by Sept. 30 - the end of the cur­rent fis­cal year.

The re­main­der - $95.7 mil­lion in eco­nomic and mil­i­tary as­sis­tance- was cut from the Egypt ac­count. Most of it had been held in es­crow since 2014 as a re­sult of the new aid con­di­tions Congress set af­ter el-Sissi's 2013 ouster of Mo­hammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected pres­i­dent. Of that, $65.7 mil­lion was for­eign mil­i­tary fi­nanc­ing and $30 mil­lion so-called "eco­nomic sup­port funds," ba­si­cally a cash pay­ment to the gov­ern­ment. These funds will now go in­stead to "key se­cu­rity part­ners, with­out un­der­min­ing Egypt's se­cu­rity," ac­cord­ing to the State De­part­ment.

In an­nounc­ing the changes, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion cited Egypt's poor hu­man rights record and its crack­down on civic and other non-gov­ern­men­tal groups.

Prom­i­nent rights lawyer Ga­mal Eid said U.S. de­mands for Egypt to im­prove its rights record were "le­git­i­mate" given what he said was a surge in vi­o­la­tions.

"The gov­ern­ment must now con­vince its Amer­i­can friends that what it's do­ing in the field of hu­man rights serves democ­racy and sta­bil­ity," Eid said. "It's in a bind and any­thing it does now will be seen as a means to se­cure U.S. aid."

Egypt is among the top re­cip­i­ents of U.S. mil­i­tary and eco­nomic as­sis­tance, re­ceiv­ing nearly $1.5 bil­lion an­nu­ally. The $1.3 bil­lion in mil­i­tary aid and $250 mil­lion in eco­nomic aid is linked to Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Is­rael, and un­der­pins a U.S.-Egyp­tian se­cu­rity re­la­tion­ship that is now mostly aimed at fight­ing ter­ror­ism.

As de­fense min­is­ter, el-Sissi led the mil­i­tary's 2013 ouster of Morsi, an Is­lamist whose year in of­fice proved di­vi­sive. El-Sissi won a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion a year later, and has over­seen a crack­down on civil so­ci­ety, par­tic­u­larly rights and prodemoc­racy groups. These groups were in­stru­men­tal in the up­ris­ing that top­pled au­to­crat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, but are pre­sented by the me­dia now as part of a for­eign con­spir­acy against Egypt.

As part of the crack­down, author­i­ties have de­tained tens of thou­sands, most of them Is­lamist sup­port­ers of Morsi, but a num­ber of prom­i­nent lib­eral and sec­u­lar ac­tivists have also been jailed. Crit­ics say the gov­ern­ment is tram­pling on the coun­try's 2014 con­sti­tu­tion, pos­si­bly the most pro­gres­sive in Egypt's his­tory.

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