U.S. Senate committee debates arms sales to West Asia
U.S. Senate committee debates arms sales to West Asia
During a hearing at the United States' Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, senior officials exchanged views on arms sales to Washington’s allies in West Asia with poor human rights records.

TEHRAN (Iran News) – During a hearing at the United States’ Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee, senior officials exchanged views on arms sales to Washington’s allies in West Asia with poor human rights records.

From the Biden administration itself, Mira Resnick of the Department of State and Dana Stroul from the Department of Defense gave testimonies, with Egypt taking center stage.

The two officials defended American assistance to Egypt despite the country’s heavy-handed crackdown on dissidents and the country’s detention of as many as 60,000 political prisoners.

Mira Resnick, deputy assistant secretary for regional affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, says Cairo is a “critical security partner” in the region.

She acknowledged Egypt’s crackdown on dissent saying “the president himself has underscored the importance of a constructive dialogue on human rights with the government of Egypt and we will continue to pursue this, even as we pursue shared security goals on maritime security, on border security, on counter-terrorism”

However, Democratic Senator, Chris Murphy, questioned this logic saying “It is time to ask whether the threat that less arms from the U.S. will cause our partners to simply abandon us and turn to Russia or China is real, or whether it is just a red herring.”

Murphy criticized the Egyptian military for focusing “more on internal repression than on regional security.”

He added, “This is a country that is receiving significant U.S. aid, $1.3 billion a year, and in the midst of a dizzying crackdown on political dissent”.

He further raised the issue of Egypt’s two-year imprisonment of Egyptian-American human rights activist Mohamed Soltan, who has been released, as an example of the government’s human rights abuses.

“They would throw sick prisoners into his cell – dying, sick prisoners, let them die there, and let the corpse sit and rot inside his solitary confinement cell as a means to try and break him,” Murphy said.

Dana Stroul, the deputy assistant secretary of defence for the Middle East, stressed “the bottom line for President Biden is that he values the relationship with Egypt. He believes they are an important security partner”

The highest-ranking Republican Senator sitting at the hearing, Todd Young, argued that attaching “insurmountable barriers” to arms exports would undermine Washington’s ability to exert influence in West Asia.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed its version of the fiscal year 2022 to 2023 foreign policy appropriations package. It included funding to the tune of $1.3bn in arms exports to Egypt.

It comes as Democratic lawmakers are increasingly raising concern over human rights abuses in Egypt.  Congressman Tom Malinowski and Adam Schiff have called for a cut in Egypt’s assistance because of its rights record.

The Senate is preparing to take up foreign policy spending bills that includes a decision over whether to fully finance $1.3 billion in assistance to the Egyptian government.

America’s own laws require the Secretary of State to certify Egypt is taking “sustained and effective steps” in strengthening the rule of law, democratic institutions and respect for human rights in order to release $300 million in foreign military financing.

However, the Secretary of State can bypass this by issuing a waiver claiming it is in the national security interest of the country to fully fund military assistance.

In July 2020, Former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued such a waiver for Egypt.

Advocates of arms exports to dictatorship with poor human rights records say if Washington withdraws its assistance, other superpowers like Russia or China will fill the void.

However, China’s influence in West Asia has grown through economic means largely due to investments and construction projects via its Belt and Road Initiative.

Russia on the other hand has decreased its arms exports, according to research by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The United States is the largest arms supplier to West Asia, with exports increasing by 28 percent between 2016 and 2020.

Many of those weapons tend to land on the heads of women and children in Yemen and the Palestinians.