Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) vowed to place a hold on over $200 million in military aid until the African country improved its human rights record.
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The new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wasted little time to block over $200 million in military aid to Egypt, the country at the heart of the alleged bribery scheme that forced his predecessor to step down last month.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the new chairman of the panel, vowed to place a hold on these funds until the African country improved its human rights record.
“Egypt’s stability is in the US national interest, and that interest is best served when the Egyptian government is taking sustainable, concrete, and meaningful steps to improve respect for the human rights of its citizens,” Cardin said in a statement on Tuesday.
The senator’s action highlights the kind of power the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee has… and why a country might want to try to influence whoever holds that position.
In September, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) was indicted for allegedly using his influence to benefit the government of Egypt in return for money, gifts, and gold.
As required by Senate rules, he was forced to step down, and Cardin ascended to the panel’s top position.
It only took him two weeks to reverse course on the Egyptian military aid.
“Congress has been clear, through the law, that the government of Egypt’s record on a range of critical human rights issues, good governance, and the rule of law must improve if our bilateral relationship is to be sustained,” Cardin stated.
The money he is delaying is only part of the aid that Egypt will receive from the US.
Last month, the State Department okayed a total of $1.215 billion in military aid that Egypt was supposed to receive next year. Most of that money will still be released with no strings attached.
However, the payment of $235 million was tied to Cairo improving its human rights record — and that is the funding Cardin is now holding up per his new authority.
“As Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I believe it is imperative that we continue to hold the government of Egypt, and all governments, accountable for their human rights violations,” he stated. “I intend to exercise fully the Committee’s oversight responsibilities and my authorities to hold foreign military funds and the sale of arms to the government of Egypt, if it does not take concrete, meaningful, and sustainable steps to improve the human rights conditions in the country.”
Specifically, the senator said Egypt must reform and improve its pretrial detention practices, speed up the process of pardoning and releasing political prisoners, and allow human rights defenders, civil society advocates, political opposition, and independent media to operate in Egypt.
Cardin noted that he has spoken with Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the issue and that he and the Biden administration are on the same page with regard to safeguarding and expanding human rights in Egypt.