The U.S. State Department on Tuesday approved a sprawling $2.5 billion arms sale to Egypt even as the Biden administration continues to withhold a far smaller sum of military aid—$130 million—over expressed concerns about human rights abuses by the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a disconnect that critics said makes a mockery of U.S. leaders' rhetoric.
Authorized on the 11th anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the weapons sale includes 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft as well as $355 million worth of air defense radar systems. "Nothing says 'the U.S. doesn't care about your government's oppression' quite like announcing $2.5 billion in arms sales to Egypt on the anniversary of the January 25 Revolution," Ben Freeman, a research fellow at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, wrote in response to the news.
Andrew Stroehlein, European Media director for Human Rights Watch, said the Biden administration is "encouraging and assisting Egypt's torturers" by moving to funnel more arms to the authoritarian al-Sisi regime.
In September, as Common Dreams reported, Biden administration officials announced their decision to provide Egypt with $170 million in military aid while withholding $130 million until the regime meets certain "human rights criteria," including ending its crackdown on political dissidents and activists. Egypt was given a January 30, 2022 deadline to comply with the administration's conditions.
"If human rights were truly the center of our foreign policy, we wouldn’t be selling nearly $1.2 billion in weapons to one of the worst human rights abusers in the world," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted at the time, referring to earlier U.S. arms arrangements with Egypt.
During a press briefing on Tuesday, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee pushed State Department spokesperson Ned Price on the seeming incoherence of withholding $130 million on human rights grounds while greenlighting a massive sale of high-tech weaponry to the same brutal regime.
Two new arms deals for Egypt valued at more than $2.5 billion announced by the State Department on the same day Congress is calling on the Biden administration to reprogram $130 million in military aid away from Egypt for failing to meet human rights conditions. https://t.co/N15y0mqdxs— Seth Binder (@seth_binder) January 25, 2022
"What is the point of holding—withholding—$130 million in foreign military financing when you're just going to turn around and sell them $2.5 billion in weapons?" Lee asked.
Price dodged the question, telling Lee that "if we have anything to add on that... we'll let you know."
Earlier Tuesday, Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.)—co-chairs of Congress' Egypt Human Rights Caucus—issued a statement urging the Biden administration not to release the $130 million in military aid, warning that the al-Sisi government "has continued to engage in widespread torture, suppression of dissent, and even persecution of American citizens and the families of critics living in the United States."
"Holding firm on the conditions," the lawmakers added, "would be consistent with President Biden's campaign commitment of '[n]o more blank checks' for the Egyptian military regime."