Sources from the State Department confirm that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson authorized the $195 million to be held in reserve until Egypt shows some progress on “key priorities” such as human rights abuses and the new law that many nongovernmental organizations say makes their charity work illegal.
This decision took observers by surprise as it signals a new turn in Trump’s foreign policy stance, as his administration made it clear earlier that human rights were not going to be given primacy over economic or strategic interests.
Last April, Trump lavishly praised President Sisi of Egypt on his counter-terrorism efforts. “I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President el-Sisi,” Trump said.
Earlier that month, Tillerson had told State Department employees that “if we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”
Groups such as Amnesty International have documented widespread repression and human rights abuses, including torture, by the Egyptian security forces and an effort by the government to quell dissent.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said it “regrets the decision” in a statement released Wednesday, calling it a “misjudgment.”
The US is underestimating Egypt’s security needs, the statement added, noting that the funding is vitally important to both countries’ common interests.
Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid since it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. It has received $80 billion in military and economic aid over the past 30 years. In 2013, President Barack Obama froze the supply of military equipment after the Egyptian army overthrew President Mohamed Morsi. When aid was resumed, Congress required that the secretary of state certify that Egypt was making progress in governing democratically.