US sells arms but voices concerns on Egypt human rights

The United States has vowed to press human rights with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seen in January 2021 before a championship handball match
The United States has vowed to press human rights with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, seen in January 2021 before a championship handball match MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY POOL/AFP/File
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Washington (AFP)

US President Joe Biden's administration on Tuedsay approved a nearly $200 million arms sale to Egypt but vowed to press human rights issues after a US activist reported harassment of his family.

The Biden administration -- which has vowed to end support for Saudi Arabia's offensive operations in Yemen's devastating war and is reviewing a major jet sale to the United Arab Emirates -- said it approved the sale of 168 tactical missiles to Egypt.

The $197 million sale of the Raytheon-made Rolling Airframe Missiles was requested by the Egyptian navy to improve defense in coastal areas and around the Red Sea, the State Department said.

The State Department said in a statement that it approved the sale, subject to congressional review, as Egypt "continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East."

Biden has vowed a tougher stance on human rights after his predecessor Donald Trump courted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, whom he reportedly called "my favorite dictator" in part for his cooperation with Israel.

A lawyer for Mohamed Soltan, a US citizen who has filed a lawsuit alleging torture in Egyptian custody, said that plain-clothes officers raided the homes of six family members Sunday, detaining two cousins.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that said the United States was aware and "looking into" the account.

"We take seriously all allegations of arbitrary arrest or detention," Price told reporters.

"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."

In Egypt, pro-Sisi television hosts greeted the statement about the arrests with disdain -- neither confirming or denying their veracity -- with some such as Nashaat al-Deehy bluntly calling Soltan "a terrorist."

Soltan, the son of a leading member of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, was arrested in August 2013 after Sisi led the military ouster of elected president Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist.

In 2015, Soltan was released and deported to the United States after renouncing his Egyptian citizenship.

He filed the lawsuit in a US court in June and last month worked with members of Congress to form a caucus devoted to promoting human rights in Egypt.

"Now the Egyptian regime is arresting his relatives to try to intimidate him into silence. Such tactics have no place in the international community," said Eric Lewis, a lawyer for Soltan.