WASHINGTON — U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy said he intends to block aid to Egypt’s military until he sees “convincing evidence” the interim military-backed government is committed to the rule of law. The lawmaker’s statement came as Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy met with Secretary of State John Kerry and insisted his country is moving forward on the path to democracy.
Speaking Tuesday on the Senate floor, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the subcommittee on the State Department and Foreign Operations, denounced what he called the “sham trial” Monday during which a court reportedly sentenced to death nearly 700 supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Leahy called it a “flaunting of human rights” by the Egyptian government and “an appalling abuse of the justice system,” which he said is fundamental to democracy.
"Nobody, nobody can justify this. It doesn’t show democracy. It shows a dictatorship run amok. It is a total violation of human rights. So, I’m not prepared to sign off on the additional delivery of aid for the Egyptian military. I’m not prepared to do that until we see convincing evidence the government is committed to the rule of law," said Leahy.
On Monday, the United States said it was “deeply troubled” by the mass death sentence verdict. White House officials said “it defies even the most basic standards of international justice.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed alarm saying the “verdicts…appear not to meet basic fair trial standards” and they “are likely to undermine prospects for long-term stability.”
The case stemmed from deadly riots last year after security forces violently disbanded protests held by Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Last month, the same court in Minya sentenced 529 defendants to death, drawing similar international criticism.
Meeting in Washington Tuesday with Fahmy, Kerry insisted the United States wants the interim Egyptian government to be successful.
"We are hopeful and look for a political process of inclusivity, a constitution implemented which brings people politically to the table and broadens the democratic base of Egypt," said Kerry.
Kerry called the recent court rulings “disturbing decisions” that raise serious challenges.
Fahmy said the judicial system is independent of the government.
"I can’t comment on the content of the decisions themselves, but I’m confidence that due process is allowed and that the legal system will ultimately end up with the proper decisions in each of these cases," said Fahmy.
He said his country will build a democracy based on the rule of law, and that the people of Egypt want democracy and a better future. Fahmy also said the country is moving forward, pointing to the constitution, a presidential election next month, and a parliamentary election which will come after the presidential one.
The Obama administration has relaxed a ban on military aid to Cairo imposed in the wake of the violence that followed Morsi's ouster last year. Last week, the Defense Department announced $650 million in military aid and 10 Apache helicopters for Cairo. On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said the aid has the blessing of President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
"This is a relationship, from a military-to-military perspective, that matters. It’s important, and we want to see it continue," said Kirby.
Kirby said the aid is for Egypt’s security requirements in the Sinai and promised to consult with members of Congress and keep them informed as the aid moves forward.