US aid to Egypt extended despite rights concerns

The Obama administration today formally extended $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt on national security grounds, thereby sidestepping key democratic benchmarks set for the country's rulers in a move that has drawn criticism, reported Reuters

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismissed civil society conditions earlier attached to the funds in a notification sent to Capitol Hill today. She also certified a further $200 million in economic aid tied to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, said the Associated Press (AP), which Congress also approved along with $60 million in what was called an "enterprise fund," said Reuters.

Senator Patrick Leahy, who wrote the legislation that tied Egypt's democratic progress to the aid deal, lashed out against the move as a step backwards for both the US and Egypt. "[B]y waiving the conditions we send a contradictory message," the Vermont Democrat said in a statement released Thursday. "The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy."

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland issued a statement today defending the move as part of "America's over-arching goal: to maintain our strategic partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful transition to democracy," a process it described as "not yet complete," noting that "more work remains to protect universal rights and freedoms."

Egypt's ruling military authorities have been roundly criticized by rights communities in Egypt for their reported suppression of opposition activity following the historic ousting of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak last February. Activists there fear the government's ongoing crackdown on disset is part of a bid for permanent power. 

More from GlobalPost: Seeking a place in 'new Egypt'

The US provided Mubarak's government with enormous sums in foreign military financing for years, contracts that today supply the country's military rulers with critical equipment and logistical support.

AP said such contracts would be terminated if the deal is not renewed soon, while Reuters cited officials saying cancellation fees would have been more than $2 billion. 

News of the expected extension of the military aid deal also ends speculation that Washington would withold the money in response to a recent high-profile case targeting foreign funding of non-profit organizations in Egypt

The Wall Street Journal said the US military funds cannot be put toward Egypt's crumbling subsidy system, a fund economists say will soon run try due to a wider economic crisis that has engulfed the nation.