The Associated Press news agency reported that the US State Department sent an official memorandum to Congress in August of this year, accusing the Egyptian government of failing to make progress on the protection of freedom of expression and minority rights, and permitting observers access to areas of conflict in Sinai.
The memo states that “The overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate … There is a continuing problem with arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances. There are reports of extrajudicial killings. There are numerous allegations of torture and deaths in detention.“
According to the AP report, the memo is “likely to draw consternation from Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who meets Wednesday with President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly gathering.”
US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson sent the detailed memorandum to Congress on August 22, the same day the Trump administration decided to deduct a portion of US aid to Egypt for reasons related to the human rights situation. The State Department report is a legal requirement for the issuance of a security waiver which exempts Cairo from meeting certain requirements on its human rights and democracy record and permits the US to dispense some of the withheld aid.
The State Department rejected repeated requests from the media and human rights groups to disclose the details of the memorandum, but AP was able to obtain a copy of it.
The report added that one of the chief concerns is the difficulty faced by American officials attempting to access areas of conflict in Sinai, where an armed conflict between security forces and Islamist militants is ongoing, as well as the prevention of journalists from entering the region, making government statements the primary source of information.
The Egyptian government has restricted US observers’ access to facilities used by international observer forces and development projects near the Suez Canal.
The report quotes Stephen McInerney, representative of the Middle East Democracy Project, as saying that these issues raise concerns regarding the legality of providing military aid to Egypt, since US observers should be allowed to ascertain how the funds and weapons they provide to foreign governments are used.
In August, Reuters broke the news that the US administration decided to deny US$95.7 million in grants and aid to Egypt, and postponed $195 million in military assistance due to “Egypt’s failure to respect human rights and democratic norms.”
According to US law, the government is entitled to withhold 15 percent — $195 million — of US military aid to Egypt for fiscal year 2016, or the full $1.3 billion if the Egyptian government does not make recognizable progress on its human rights and democracy record. This stipulation has been in place since 2012, when the US Congress set out a number of requirements that must be fulfilled before the payment of that percentage.