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U.S. withholding aid to Egypt over human rights issues

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi (Associated Press)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi (Associated Press)

Despite President Trump's warm embrace of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi, the United States has held back a substantial amount of foreign aid because of the country's human rights abuses.

State Department officials said Wednesday that around $195 million was held in abeyance and another $100 million redirected to other entities.

Egypt is the world's second-largest recipient of U.S. aid at about $1.3 billion annually.

"We were unable to certify" that Egypt had obeyed rules of human rights and democracy, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

The money "will be held until we see progress on democracy," she added. She cited, among other concerns, a law in Egypt that restricts the work of nongovernmental groups that often promote democracy and human rights.

It was not surprising to anyone who has followed Egypt that the country would be found to be an egregious abuser of human rights. It was more surprising that the Trump administration, which has at times chosen to overlook human rights issues in its dealings with strategic allies, would notice and take punitive action.

When Sisi in April became the first Egyptian leader to be received at the White House since 2009, Trump praised his "great friend and ally" who was doing a "fantastic job in a very difficult situation."

Sisi's government has been accused of killing, jailing or torturing tens of thousands of opponents.

Egyptian officials were furious at the U.S. action on aid, and briefly refused to receive a U.S. delegation that included President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The meetings eventually were rescheduled and took place, U.S. officials said.

Kushner is in the Middle East as part of his effort to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Nauert said the Egyptians were not caught off guard, as some seemed to suggest, and had been informed of the U.S. decision with ample warning.

That didn't stop their anger, however.

"Egypt sees this measure as reflecting poor judgment of the strategic relationship that ties the two countries over long decades and as adopting a view that lacks an accurate understanding of the importance of supporting Egypt's stability," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

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