The United States has approved most of its military aid to Egypt despite persistent concerns about human rights, the State Department said on Thursday, underlining Cairo's "crucial" role in the region.
The $1.215 billion package marks the third consecutive year that President Joe Biden's administration has waived certain congressional restrictions on aid to Egypt, despite Mr Biden's pledges to put human rights at the heart of US foreign policy.
"This decision reflects Egypt's unique contribution to U.S. national security priorities," a State Department official said in announcing Secretary of State Antony Blinken's decision.
He added, on condition of anonymity, that Egypt was a "crucial voice in efforts to advance regional peace and security", notably between Israel and the Palestinians or in neighbouring Sudan and Libya.
He insisted that this decision "in no way diminishes our commitment to advancing human rights in Egypt and around the world".
Egypt has been one of the main beneficiaries of US military aid since its historic decision to become the first Arab state to normalise relations with Israel in 1980.
The latest military aid package includes $980 million that was unrestricted. Conversely, some 235 million dollars were conditional on progress on human rights. Mr Blinken did not certify that Egypt had met these conditions, but declined to withhold the aid, citing US national security interests.
On the other hand, Mr Blinken blocked a further 85 million dollars conditional on the release of political prisoners. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi announced a "national dialogue" with the opposition, which he has crushed, and began releasing political prisoners in April last year.
But "the pace has slowed considerably" this year, according to another US official, who also points to an increase in "politically motivated arrests"."We have had very tough conversations with the Egyptians about our human rights concerns at all levels", he added, also on condition of anonymity.
Egypt has thousands of political prisoners. The Presidential Pardons Committee has released a thousand of them in a year, but "three times as many were arrested" at the same time, according to NGOs.