By Riches Soberekon
The new head of the powerful US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin, has blocked some $235 million in military aid to Egypt over human rights concerns.
The move comes after Cardin’s predecessor, Bob Menendez, was indicted in a corruption case linked to Cairo. Menendez is accused of having accepted bribes in exchange for using his influence to promote Egypt’s interests in Washington.
Cardin said in a statement that his blocking of funds “will persist until specific progress on human rights is made.” He is calling in particular for the release of some of the approximately 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt.
The State Department last month approved $1.215 billion in military aid to Egypt, despite lingering concerns over human rights. The 235 million blocked by Cardin are linked to respect for human rights, but the administration of President Joe Biden is in favor of sending it due to national security interests.
Egypt has been a major recipient of US military aid since its historic decision to become the first Arab state to normalize relations with Israel in 1980.
Cardin’s decision to block the military aid is likely to put pressure on Egypt to improve its human rights record. It is also a sign that the Biden administration is willing to take a tougher stance on Egypt.
The decision is also likely to be controversial among some US lawmakers, who argue that military aid to Egypt is essential for US national security interests.
It remains to be seen how Egypt will respond to Cardin’s decision. It is possible that it will make some concessions on human rights in order to secure the funding. However, it is also possible that it will retaliate by taking a more hostile stance towards the United States.