On Friday, the US State Department announced it will reprogram $130 million in military aid initially meant for Egypt to “other national security priorities”; what exactly the money will be used for has not yet been announced.
The decision is a direct response to the Egyptian government failing to meet human rights-related criteria by the 30 January deadline. While the exact details of the criteria have not been released to the public, it is known that they required that Egypt free a number of political prisoners. Additionally, a State Department report from March further outlined a number Egyptian human rights issues. Examples include unlawful or arbitrary killings, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, arbitrary detention, political imprisonment, serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, violence minorities and forced or compulsory child labor.
However, the decision is more of a symbolic slap on the wrist than a serious attempt to force Egypt to change its ways. The US sends Egypt around $1.3 billion in military aid every year and Egypt will still receive $170 million in aid out of the original $300 million the US planned to send at the beginning of the year. As the State Department also stated that $130 million is the maximum it can withhold for this fiscal year, further withholding is unlikely. Moreover, last week saw the approval of a $2.5 billion arms sale to the Egyptian military which includes C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and SPS-48 Land Based Radar systems.
Predictably, human rights groups generally praised the American decision but also pointed to the “bigger picture” of US aid to Egypt and called for a harsher stance. A joint statement from 19 human rights groups said the US government has “failed to adequately respond to the severity of the human rights crisis in Egypt.” President Biden had promised to take a much tougher stance towards Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi than the Trump administration but Egypt remains a key regional ally for the US. It is unlikely that the US will be willing to endanger such an important bilateral relationship over human rights issues.