The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blocked military aid to Egypt, days after Senator Bob Menendez stepped aside from the job as he fights allegations that he took bribes to help the Egyptian government.
(Bloomberg) — The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee blocked military aid to Egypt, days after Senator Bob Menendez stepped aside from the job as he fights allegations that he took bribes to help the Egyptian government.
“My hold on current funds will remain until specific human rights progress is made,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland said in a statement Tuesday.
At issue is $235 million in foreign military financing — Egypt’s share of US funds provided to countries as either a grant or a loan to allow them to purchase defense equipment.
Congress allocated $320 million in taxpayer funds for assistance to Egypt, subject to Cairo meeting certain human-rights benchmarks. The administration withheld $85 million over ongoing human rights concerns, while using a national security waiver to allow for the release of the remaining $235 million.
Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, has been indicted on charges that he tried to advance the interests of businessmen and the Egyptian government. The decision presents a dilemma for the Biden administration, which has had to maintain relations with authoritarian governments even as it promotes democracy.
There was no immediate comment from Egyptian authorities. The decision comes as the country is embroiled in its worst economic crisis in years and plans presidential elections in December. Egypt has been a major recipient of US military aid since normalizing ties with Israel in 1980, although Washington has partially withheld assistance before on rights concerns.
Earlier: Senator Menendez Charged With Taking Bribes of Gold Bars, Cash
A State Department spokesperson, Vedant Patel, said earlier Tuesday that the US was “continuing to work and consult closely with Congress and the Egyptian government” on providing the aid while “tangible progress on human rights continues to be made in Egypt.”
Prosecutors allege Menendez gave Egyptian officials “highly sensitive” information about who worked at the US Embassy in Cairo. He secretly wrote a letter that Egypt sent to his colleagues, urging them to lift a hold on $300 million in US aid, according to the indictment, which added that he had his wife convey a message that he would approve a $99 million arms sale to Egypt.
Menendez has denied wrongdoing.
Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, is seeking another term in the December elections and widely expected to win.
El-Sisi, whose government has faced international criticism for its harsh treatment of opponents and dissidents, won elections in 2014 and 2018 with more than 90% of the vote, and securing a new six-year term would extend his rule until about 2030.
President Joe Biden met with El-Sisi last November during the United Nations climate summit at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
Read More: Egypt’s President Sisi to Run Again as Economic Crisis Deepens
Cardin had said on Sept. 28 that he intended to speak with administration officials, committee members and staff about the foreign military financing, which had yet to be sent to Egypt.
He told reporters that he planned to focus on human rights during his stewardship of the committee, with the goal of ensuring that US foreign policy reflects the nation’s values.
(Updates with Egypt details in sixth paragraph.)
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