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US Senate Panel Votes to Cut Millions in Egypt Aid, Citing Human Rights Concerns

© REUTERS / Tiksa NegeriEgyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addresses a news conference after meeting Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, March 24, 2015
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addresses a news conference after meeting Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, March 24, 2015 - Sputnik International
Egypt’s grim human rights record compelled the US Senate’s Foreign Aid Spending Panel to propose cutting $300 million from military aid to the country in a Thursday vote.

Lawmakers also want to slash $37 million from economic aid according to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-VT) summary of the 2018 fiscal year bill. Leahy is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees foreign assistance. 

.S. President Donald Trump (2-L), flanked by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (3-R), Senior Advisor Jared Kushner (2-R) and National Security advisor H.R. McMaster (R), meets with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia May 21, 2017 - Sputnik International
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The bill was passed unanimously by the subcommittee and on Thursday will be taken up by the full Senate Appropriations Committee.

After the vote, Leahy told Al-Monitor in an email that "There is growing concern in the Congress, and the administration, with the repressive policies of the al-Sisi government," referencing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

"The United States and Egypt have a long history of cooperation, which we want to see continued," he wrote. "But it is important for the Egyptian people to know that the United States supports freedom of expression, of association and of due process, and when these rights are systematically violated there is a consequence."

With the State Department reportedly cutting $95.7 million in economic and military aid recently, and withholding foreign military financing to the tune of an additional $195 million until Cairo’s human rights issues are addressed, the Senate’s vote is in line with President Donald Trump’s pushback on Egypt, though his administration is still generally supportive of Sisi.

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This year, Egypt would lose $112 million in economic aid under the Senate’s proposal, bringing it down to $75 million in the 2018 fiscal year. The State Department wants to follow suit, but appropriators in the House want to increase economic aid to $150 million.

According to Danielle Smoot, communications director for House Foreign Aid Panel Chair Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), "While we don't comment on the Senate's appropriation products, the House bill reinforces Chairman Rogers' commitment to Egypt as an ally and strategic partner." 

One source told Al-Monitor that the cuts stemmed from Sisi alienating key Republicans by passing legislation that prohibits nongovernmental organizations from taking part in human rights activities.

In May, Senate Armed Services Chair John McCain (R-AZ) and Senate Foreign Aid Panel Chair Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) released a joint statement denouncing the law, calling it "the latest sign of a growing crackdown on human rights and peaceful dissent in Egypt."

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Graham called the bill "draconian," criticizing Egypt’s "undemocratic" trajectory. "Civil society seems to be deteriorating, their economy is lacking and I really worry about a consolidation of power in a way that's basically undemocratic," he said.

"I'm not asking Egypt to become America, I'm asking Egypt to become the best that Egypt can be," Graham noted, AP reports.

The move coincides with a Human Rights Watch report released Thursday that speaks of an "assembly line of torture," under the Sisi government, under which political dissidents are subject to rape and electrocution.

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