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Washington makes symbolic cuts to Cairo's military aid

Despite unease about his authoritarian rule, General El Sisi has got most of his requested military aid and diplomatic access

As the second biggest recipient of United States' military aid after Israel, Egypt remains a strategic priority for Washington despite growing calls from human rights campaigners for a tougher against President Abdel Fattah el Sisi's hard line regime.

After a stopover in London for Queen Elizabeth II's state funeral, El Sisi flew to New York for the UN General Assembly where Egypt's hosting of the COP27 climate summit will be an important agenda item this week.

El Sisi, an admirer of former US President Donald Trump, is set to meet high-level US and European officials on climate and regional security issues including Sudan and Ethiopia.

But Washington's latest announcement that it will withhold 10% of the $1.3 billion military aid allocated for Cairo is meant to send a critical signal.

In contrast to its predecessor, President Joe Biden's administration has raised concerns over repression in Egypt since it took office. It insists that military and economic support for cash-strapped Egypt – including another International Monetary Fund bailout – will be conditional on respect for human rights.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had been under pressure from human rights advocacy groups to suspend at least $300 million.

But officials say that the State Department's legal team has determined that 10% is the most that can be withheld from the annual $1.3bn US military sales grant to Egypt, in place since the mid-1970s (AC Vol 63 No 7, Back to the IMF…again).

The release of hundreds of political prisoners who had been detained without trial since a July meeting between Biden and El Sisi has also earned some goodwill in Washington and triggered the release of $75m of suspended funds. Leftist political activist Haitham Mohamadin was among those released this month.

A further $95m has been disbursed under an exemption for counter-terrorism and border control.

Washington made a similar compromise in January, releasing some targeted funds and withholding specific amounts over concerns about human rights and the detention of an estimated 60,000 political prisoners by El Sisi's regime (AC Vol 62 No 6, Frosty formality).

The move 'reflects the administration's concerns about human rights and fundamental freedoms in Egypt, while also seeking to preserve the engagement and dialogue we have had over the last 20 months,' a senior State Department official told reporters.

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