WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration has decided to unfreeze $195 million in military aid to Egypt which it had previously withheld because of concerns over Egypt’s human rights record, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday.
The decision to allow Cairo to use the previously blocked funds is intended to recognize “steps Egypt has taken over the last year in response to specific U.S. concerns” and in the spirit of strengthening the partnership with Egypt, the official said.
The Trump administration held up the funds last year, citing what it said was Egypt’s failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms.
The decision in part reflected Washington’s frustration over a new law that regulates non-governmental organizations and was widely seen as part a growing crackdown on dissent.
The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not cite any specific steps Egypt had taken to address U.S. human rights concerns. The official indicated that preserving U.S. security cooperation with Egypt, which includes countering militant groups, was part of the rationale for releasing the funds.
“We have serious concerns regarding human rights and governance in Egypt, and we will continue to use the many tools at our disposal to raise these concerns,” the official said.
“At the same time, strengthened security cooperation is important to U.S. national security. Secretary Pompeo determined that releasing these funds is important to supporting these needs and continuing to improve our partnership with Egypt.”
The State Department’s latest human rights report, released in April, cites a wide range of human rights issues in Egypt, including torture, limits on freedom of expression, government control over NGOs and the use of military courts to try civilians.
The $195 million in aid was part of the U.S. government’s fiscal year 2016 budget. The funds, known as Foreign Military Financing, are intended for Egypt to buy U.S.-made military equipment.
Reporting by Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Mohammad Zargham and Warren Strobel; Editing by Eric Beech and Jonathan Oatis