By The Associated Press (APNewsBreak) –
Egypt is failing to protect free speech and its minorities, investigate abuses by its forces or grant U.S. monitors access to the conflict-ridden Sinai Peninsula, according to a damning Trump administration report obtained by The Associated Press.
The U.S. grievances, detailed in a State Department memorandum to Congress, are likely to draw consternation from Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who meets Wednesday with President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly gathering. The memo was legally required for the Trump administration to continue giving certain U.S. aid to Cairo despite its failure to meet several conditions on good governance.
“The overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate,” the memo says. “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.”
Last month, the Trump administration cut nearly $100 million in military and economic aid to Egypt, a key counterterrorism partner that has repeatedly run afoul of the U.S. over its human rights record. But the administration said Egypt would still receive almost $200 million more in military financing, on a delayed basis, if it makes improvements, including easing tight restrictions on civic groups.
Although the U.S. determined it couldn’t certify that Egypt was meeting its conditions to receive the aid, the law allows Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to waive those conditions if he determines it’s in U.S. national security interests to provide the funds anyway. But the law requires a detailed “memorandum of justification” outlining how Egypt is falling short.
Tillerson sent the memo to Congress on Aug. 22, the same day the funding decision was announced. But the State Department has declined to make the memo public, despite requests from the media and human rights groups. The memo is considered embarrassing to el-Sissi, who has denounced previous human rights critiques as baseless.
El-Sissi did not directly address global critiques of his country’s rights record in his speech to the U.N. on Tuesday. But the Egyptian leader said his country was working to empower its people economically despite being “encircled by the most dangerous crises in the world.”
Another major U.S. concern is the lack of access Egypt has granted American officials in northern Sinai, where el-Sissi is grappling with an insurgency by Islamic militants. Egyptian authorities have barred journalists and most others from traveling there, leaving news outlets to rely entirely on statements by the police or the military spokesman.
The report said Egypt has only allowed U.S. officials to visit certain facilities used by an international observer force, and development projects near the Suez Canal. Stephen McInerney, who runs the Washington-based Project on Middle East Democracy, said that raises questions about whether the U.S. can legally keep providing military aid and equipment. Under the terms of the aid, the U.S. must be able to monitor how money and weapons transferred to foreign governments are used.