Earlier this week, Secretary of State Tony Blinken announced a change in US policy on aid to Egypt. As one of America’s most important allies in the region, Egypt receives $1.3 billion in aid from the US each year.
After the Arab Spring, Congress made $300 million of that aid subject conditional on meeting certain human rights standards. Each year since then, the State Department has chosen not to freeze any significant amount of aid.
Under the Biden administration, with its commitment to placing human rights at the center of foreign policy, the State Department’s approach is changing.
On Monday, September 13, the administration announced that $130 million of the $300 in conditionable aid will be frozen until the Egyptian government improves human rights conditions in the country.
The remaining $170 million that is being delivered to Egypt will not be given to them simply as a blank check. Instead, the aid will be restricted so that it can only be used for defined functions, such as counterterrorism and border security.
In this way, the administration is aligning our foreign aid and military assistance with American values and American interests, ensuring it is used to promote human rights and security, not to undermine those goals.
Conditioning aid is a process in which the aid recipient must meet certain defined benchmarks in order to receive the aid. If the State Department determines they have not met these standards, the aid is frozen until the situation on the ground changes.
End-use restrictions are a different but similarly useful tool. When end-use restrictions are applied, the country receives the full amount of aid, but can only use it for specific purposes — in Egypt’s case, this means funding border security and counterterrorism. Restrictions prevent the money from being used for illegal detentions or extrajudicial killings, for example.
End-use restrictions are an important accountability mechanism that allows us to ensure our aid is not undermining human rights and running counter to our security interests. They allow the US to give its allies the resources needed to enhance security, while also ensuring that American taxpayer dollars are not used to fund human rights abuses.
Conditioning and restricting aid is the norm for almost all of America’s aid relationships, with one clear exception: Israel. Currently, the US government provides the Israeli government with nearly $4 billion in aid each year with relatively few restrictions on how it can be used.
Implementing aid restrictions would mean that the Israeli government would have to use the full amount of aid it receives from the US for legitimate security purposes, and would not be able to divert American funds for projects like the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the demolition of Palestinian homes, which only serve to entrench the current status quo and do nothing to make Israel safer.
Legislation to strengthen end-use restrictions has already been introduced in the House. Polling shows that a majority of Americans support the idea. All that is needed now for this important step in the direction of protecting human rights is a commitment from the Biden administration.
If you agree that the Biden administration should make clear that American taxpayer dollars should not be used for the purposes of occupation, annexation, or illegal settlement, please join J Street’s effort to support end-use restrictions by signing our petition here.