U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has signed off on the release of $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt, despite concerns that the country's new leaders are not making sufficient democratic reforms.
Secretary Clinton cleared delivery of the assistance by certifying to U.S. lawmakers that Egypt is meeting its obligations under its peace treaty with Israel and has made “significant progress” toward democracy in the last 15 months. That includes free and fair parliamentary elections and the transfer of legislative authority to that new assembly.
In December, Congress passed a law requiring that Egypt's military rulers support the transition to a civilian government, hold free and fair elections and protect freedom of religion and association before the release of U.S. military aid.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Secretary Clinton waived legislative conditions relating to the democratic transition on the basis of U.S. national security interests and the goal of maintaining the strategic partnership with Egypt.
"What we are looking to do here is to continue to work with Egyptian partners on the kind of future that they want for Egypt and that is in our mutual interest,” she said.
Some U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups are expressing disappointment with the decision. They say Egypt's transitional military leaders have not demonstrated they are committed to making full democratic reforms.
The Washington-based civil society group Freedom House says the move undermines U.S. support for Egyptian democracy. It says Egypt's military rulers have “repeatedly failed to uphold the fundamental rights of Egyptian citizens.”
Freedom House was one of three U.S. pro-democracy groups shut down in Cairo in December during an Egyptian investigation into illegal foreign funding.
Nuland says a new Egypt is emerging but there is clearly still much work to do.
"There is more to do on the electoral side," said the spokeswoman. "There is more to do on the human rights side. There is more to do on the civil society side. And we make absolutely clear here that we remain deeply concerned regarding the trials of civil society activists - Egyptian and international - and we have raised these concerns and we are going to continue to do so.”
If the situation in Egypt deteriorates, Nuland says Secretary Clinton can always re-evaluate her decision to grant the aid waiver.