Trump Administration Cuts Military Aid To Egypt

Aug 23, 2017
Originally published on August 23, 2017 5:39 pm
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The Trump administration is withholding aid to Egypt out of human rights concerns. The move seemed to catch Egyptian officials off-guard. It came as Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser, visited Cairo with a White House delegation. The State Department is telling Egypt to clean up its human rights record if it wants U.S. aid to keep flowing. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called his Egyptian counterpart with the news which Spokesperson Heather Nauert describes this way.

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HEATHER NAUERT: Egypt has been put essentially on notice with us.

KELEMEN: She says the U.S. cut nearly a hundred million dollars in military and economic assistance and will spend that elsewhere. The Trump administration is also withholding another $195 million in military aid until Egypt cleans up its human rights record.

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NAUERT: I want to mention that they still did get a billion dollars in fiscal year 2017. So they still got some of their money, but we're withholding part of that money until they can start to come around and adhere to democratic reforms.

KELEMEN: The U.S. has tried before to use aid as leverage with Egypt with mixed results. Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says there's growing frustration in Washington over Egypt's human rights record now. She calls it abysmal, particularly since Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi came to power in 2014 following a military coup.

MICHELE DUNNE: There are tens of thousands of political prisoners. The best estimate is 60,000 and in very poor conditions, rampant use of torture. And then there are even things going on in Egypt that we really haven't seen before like forced disappearances.

KELEMEN: And Egypt passed what Dunne describes as a draconian law that restricts all human rights and aid groups. She says the administration was led to believe that Sissi wouldn't approve it without changes, but he did. She's also been hearing growing frustrations on Capitol Hill about the fact that the U.S. has little visibility in how U.S. weapons are being used against an insurgency in the Sinai. And there are concerns about murky Egyptian ties to North Korea. But little of that was on display earlier this year when President Trump embraced the Egyptian leader at the White House.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know in case there was any doubt that we are very much behind President el-Sissi. He's done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.

KELEMEN: And Sissi's government seemed to think that was enough, says Dunne, a former State Department official with long experience in the region.

DUNNE: They thought all that matters is Trump, and if Trump likes Sissi, everything else is going to be fine. And now they're finding out that isn't the case.

KELEMEN: She says in a relationship this big with so much U.S. money involved, there are other players, including members of Congress who keep close tabs on Egypt. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.