Earlier this week, the US announced it was withholding $85m in aid to Egypt, which had been conditioned on the release of political prisoners. Instead of going to Cairo, the money would be redirected to Taiwan and Lebanon.
At the same time, it approved $235m in aid to the North African country, which rights groups and lawmakers have long been calling to be withheld.
The rights groups’ statement said that the approval “sends the wrong message at the wrong time”.
“At a time when the administration has sought to convince the world that the United States is committed to a rules-based order that separates its vision from those of rival powers, ignoring when partners violate the rules reflects a double standard and signals a lack of commitment to the rules the United States claims to defend and value,” the statement added.
The rights groups welcomed the administration’s decision to withhold the $85m, but said that by providing the Egyptian government with more than $1.2bn in military aid, the Joe Biden administration “contradicts its repeated commitments to put human rights at the center of its foreign policy”.
The statement was signed by 16 groups including the Egyptian Front for Human Rights; Freedom House; The Freedom Initiative; Project on Middle East Democracy; and The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
The amount that President Biden has withheld from Egypt is less than in previous years. In 2021, Washington withheld $130m in foreign military financing to Egypt. The Biden administration said it would only release the funds if Sisi’s government delivered on a set of human rights demands.
However, even the total $320m that rights groups and lawmakers are calling to be withheld is just a quarter of the $1.3bn in annual US military aid to Egypt.
Cairo is the second-largest recipient of US military aid, trailing behind only Israel. And despite repeated calls to curtail a portion of US military aid to the country, Washington has continued to reward Cairo with arms sales, including a $2.5bn sale in 2022.
In recent years, the Egyptian government has announced efforts to reduce its prison population. In 2022, for example, Cairo released 895 political prisoners, according to Amnesty International.
However, rights experts previously told MEE that the apparent attempts to ease the crackdown on civil society have come at the same time that the Sisi government has conducted further arrests and the targeting of critics.
Since April 2022, when Sisi called for national dialogue, 4,590 people have been arrested while 1,716 people have been released from prison, according to The Freedom Initiative.
In the same period, 86 people died in detention due to medical negligence by authorities.
And just this year alone, Egyptian authorities have released 627 people but arrested an additional 2,028 people.
Earlier this week, video footage was leaked from inside of Badr prison, northeast of Cairo, revealing the concerns that Egyptian activists have had since Sisi’s move to create new prisons a few years ago.
“Prisoners in Badr continue to be held in cruel, inhumane and punitive conditions,” Till the Last Prisoner said in a statement on X. The initiative is a campaign led by human rights defenders and families of detainees calling for the release of political prisoners in Egypt.
“From the moment the prisoners were transferred to Badr prison, messages and pleas have continuously highlighted the dire conditions of detainment, including systematic collective torture.”