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Biden administration authorizes $2.5 billion in arms sales to Egypt despite human rights concerns

<i>KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a press conference with his Russian counterpart (unseen) following their talks at the presidential palace in the capital Cairo on December 11
AFP/Getty Images
KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a press conference with his Russian counterpart (unseen) following their talks at the presidential palace in the capital Cairo on December 11

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

The Biden administration has authorized more than $2 billion in arms sales to Egypt despite ongoing concerns about Cairo’s human rights record.

The approval of the sale of military aircraft and air defense radar systems, announced by the State Department on Tuesday, comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken must determine whether to release a tranche of military aid that was put on hold in September over human rights concerns.

According to the announcement from the State Department, the administration formally notified Congress of the intended sales of 12 C-130J Super Hercules aircraft and related equipment for $2.2 billion and three SPS-48 Land Based Radar and related equipment for $355 million.

The State Department said the proposed sales “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Major Non-NATO Ally country that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East.”

In September, the administration released $170 million in military aid to Egypt but put another $130 million on hold, conditioned on Egypt dropping prosecutions and charges against human rights activists and organizations.

Congressional Democrats this week urged Blinken not to certify that Egypt has met those conditions, and instead are calling on the administration to reprogram the money.

“The human rights conditions President Biden attached to our aid to Egypt were not a multiple choice menu for President Sisi to choose from — they were meant to be met in full. If the Egyptian government cherry picks a few concessions from the President’s list, while intensifying its broader campaign of repression, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial punishments, that would defeat the purpose of the administration’s efforts,” Democratic Reps. Don Beyer of Virginia and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, the co-chairs of Congress’ Egypt Human Rights Caucus, said in a statement Tuesday.

“Rewarding such a cynical move would make it even less likely that Egypt will take our requests on human rights or any other issue seriously in the future. As such, President Biden should reprogram the withheld $130 million as promised, unless the Egyptian regime complies with his stated conditions in full by the deadline,” they said.

In a letter to Blinken, House Foreign Affairs Committee Democrats said that “while (they) recognize and reaffirm important steps Egypt has taken in recent weeks to address such concerns by releasing certain political prisoners and individuals unjustly detained, the Egyptian government must meet the Administration’s conditions in full by the communicated deadline.”

“If not, we urge you to stand by your word and immediately reprogram withheld funds,” they wrote.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Tuesday that he didn’t “have anything new to announce” on the military aid, but noted that they “remain committed to engaging with our Egyptian partners on human rights.”

“We have consistently emphasized that our bilateral relationship would be strengthened by tangible improvement in respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” he said at a press briefing.

The Egyptian government has been charged with serious human rights abuses, including unlawful or arbitrary killings, forced disappearance, torture, “harsh and life-threatening prison conditions,” arbitrary detention, restrictions on freedom of speech, expression, and political participation, according to the State Department’s annual report on human rights in the country.

In January 2020, US citizen Mustafa Kassem died in Egyptian custody.

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CNN’s Alex Marquardt contributed to this report.

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