US approves helicopters to Egypt but says rights concerns remain

Washington (AFP) –


The United States has approved a $2.3 billion deal on attack helicopters for Egypt, but an official insisted Friday that Washington was still pressing on human rights concerns.

President Donald Trump's administration informed Congress on Thursday that it has given the green light to the package to refurbish 43 Apache helicopters.

R. Clarke Cooper, the State Department official in charge of military sales, said the deal was intended to support Egypt's campaign against Islamist militants in the Sinai peninsula and to ensure its interoperability with Israel's military.

The deal came despite appeals to cut off US military sales from April Corley, an American tourist visiting Egypt's Western Desert who was seriously injured and whose boyfriend was killed in an Apache attack on their tour group in 2015.

She said Egyptian authorities admitted a mistake but have refused compensation.

Another US citizen, Mustafa Kassem, died in Egyptian custody in January from a hunger strike. He was rounded up on a visit to Cairo in 2013 as part of a sweeping crackdown.

"We have been very clear with our Egyptian counterparts and interlocutors about the death of Mustafa Kassem and about the case with April Corley and that settlement," Cooper told reporters.

"Those have not gone away and they have not gone off the table," he said.

"But they do remain an important partner on the global counterterrorism campaign and they certainly remain a partner not only with us but also with our Israeli ally," he said.

Egypt in 1979 became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel, becoming one of the biggest recipients of US aid, with the defense assistance largely going back to US arms manufacturers.

Trump has cultivated a close relationship with Egypt's general turned president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has highlighted his fight against the Islamic State group and recently shipped coronavirus aid to the United States.

Representative Tom Malinowski, who served as the top State Department human rights official under president Barack Obama, told a forum last year that Egypt's military was "utterly, disastrously incompetent in addition to being cruel" and said its Apaches often fired at any spotted target without intelligence.

"The only thing they know how to do well with these F-16s and Apaches is to show them off in parades and air shows that are designed to make the regime look good," he said.