WASHINGTON: A senior U.S. senator has moved to block hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Egypt to protest the death sentences imposed on nearly 700 suspected Islamists.
Denouncing Egypt’s “dictatorship run amok” and its “egregious violation of human rights,” Democrat Patrick Leahy, who heads the Senate subcommittee overseeing foreign aid appropriations, said he is putting a hold on the $650 million in military aid greenlighted by the Pentagon last week.
“I am not prepared to sign off on the delivery of additional aid for the Egyptian military,” Leahy said in a floor speech Tuesday.
“I am not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law.”
The U.S. administration last week partially lifted a six-month freeze on some $1.5 billion in mostly military aid to Cairo – a key regional ally. Egypt has relied for decades on American aid, which amounts to about $1.5 billion per year.
Washington had agreed to deliver 10 Apache helicopters for counterterrorism efforts in the unruly Sinai Peninsula and $650 million in military aid, but withheld the rest of the funding until democratic progress is made.
But Leahy said Egypt is not worthy of the assistance until it takes immediate steps to improve its rights record.
“We cannot stand here and say we are troubled by hundreds of people being sentenced to death after a few minutes in a mass trial, but since we have been friends for so long we will go ahead and send you hundreds of millions of dollars in aid. No.”
Leahy added: “I do not think the taxpayers of this country would condone that, and neither do I.”
The leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood also criticized the death sentences handed to him and 682 others.
“I did not attend this trial, and I along with 1,000 others have been condemned to death,” Badie said of this week’s sentencing, which took place in his absence.
Egypt’s justice minister, however, rebuffed international criticism of a mass trial this week in which some 680 defendants were sentenced to death, saying the judiciary is not a tool of executive authority and that rulings can be overturned upon appeal.
“Egyptian judges are independent and there is no control over them,” Nayer Osman told reporters Wednesday. “No one in the state is directing the judge – neither a minister, nor an official.”
After a death penalty ruling, the prosecutor must appeal along with the defendant in line with normal judicial process, he added.
“The judge is a human being. He can make a mistake like any other human being,” Osman said.