The Biden administration on Tuesday announced it had approved a possible $197 million sale of missiles to Egypt, just days after the Egyptian government is said to have detained family members of a US-based Egyptian American human rights activist.
The State Department said in a news release that the proposed sale of the missiles and related equipment “will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Major Non-NATO Ally country that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East.”
“The proposed sale will support the Egyptian Navy’s Fast Missile Craft ships and provide significantly enhanced area defense capabilities over Egypt’s coastal areas and approaches to the Suez Canal,” the release said.
The proposed sale comes amid continued concerns about Egypt’s human rights record, particularly after Egyptian authorities raided the homes of relatives of Egyptian American activist Mohamed Soltan. According to Soltan’s nonprofit organization the Freedom Initiative, two of his cousins were arbitrarily detained.
“Mohamed Soltan is calling attention to the impunity and disregard for human rights under the current Egyptian regime. Now the Egyptian regime is arresting his relatives to try to intimidate him into silence,” his lawyer Eric Lewis said.
The State Department was looking into reports of the detentions on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said at a press briefing.
“We have and we continue to engage the Egyptian government on human rights concerns and we take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention,” Price said. “We will bring our values with us into every relationship that we have across the globe. That includes with our close security partners. That includes with Egypt.”
The Biden administration has stressed the importance of restoring an emphasis on human rights to foreign policy. However, the government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been accused of serious human rights abuses.
According to the State Department’s 2019 country report on human rights practices in Egypt, those abuses included “unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government or its agents and terrorist groups; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including arrests or prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of unenforced criminal libel; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, such as overly restrictive laws governing civil society organizations; restrictions on political participation; violence involving religious minorities; violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; use of the law to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute LGBTI persons; and forced or compulsory child labor.”
In January 2020, a US citizen — Mustafa Kassem — died in Egyptian custody.