United States President Joe Biden’s administration has approved a massive arms sale to Egypt valued at about $2.5bn, despite continued calls for Washington to curtail its support until Cairo improves its human rights record.
The possible sale, which is not finalised, includes 12 Super Hercules C-130 transport aircraft and related equipment worth $2.2bn, and air defence radar systems worth an estimated $355m.
The US Department of State said the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of the possible sale on Tuesday.
The announcement on Tuesday came just hours after congressional Democrats urged the administration not to release a much smaller package of military assistance withheld last year pending the Egyptian government meeting certain rights-related conditions.
The most recent sale was not related to the previously withheld military aid, the State Department said.
“The proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major non-NATO ally country that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East,” the State Department said on Tuesday.
“We maintain that our bilateral relationship with Egypt will be stronger, and America’s interests will be better served, through continued US engagement to advance our national security interests, including addressing our human rights concerns,” it added.
Despite approval by the State Department, the notification to Congress does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded.
The deals come despite ongoing concern in Washington over the Egyptian government’s poor human rights record under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, with rights groups estimating that Egypt currently holds about 60,000 political prisoners.
The Biden administration has promised to pursue a human rights-led foreign policy, including taking a hard line with el-Sisi. However, it has avoided a larger overhaul of US military aid and sales to Egypt, which it considers a key ally in the region.
For the fiscal year 2022, which began on October 1, 2021, the Biden administration budgeted $1.4bn in bilateral assistance for Cairo, most of it military-related. The sum is the same as the previous year.
Still, in September 2021, the State Department put a hold on $130m in military aid budgeted for Egypt, citing a lack of improvement in the human rights situation in the country. Cairo was reportedly given a January 30 deadline to show improvements.
The conditioned amount fell well short of the $300m Congress annually seeks to withhold on human rights grounds.
In a letter on Tuesday, Democratic legislators said despite the recent release of several high profile prisoners, including Italian-Egyptian researcher Patrick Zaki, Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, and Ola Qaradawi, the daughter of a prominent Muslim Scholar, el-Sisi’s government had not gone far enough to address the abuses.
“Tens of thousands of political prisoners … remain in Egyptian prisons,” Don Beyer and Tom Malinowski, co-chairs of the congressional Egypt Human Rights Caucus, said in a statement.
“The government of Egypt has continued to engage in widespread torture, suppression of dissent, and even persecution of American citizens and the families of critics living in the United States,” they added.
President Kais Dissolves Top Judicial Watchdog
Tunisia’s president dissolves top judicial watchdog
Tunisian President Kais Saied has dissolved a judicial council that deals with the independence of judges.
Saied – who had dismissed the government and suspended parliament last July – said on Sunday that the Supreme Judicial Council was a “thing of the past”.
sassinations of left-wing activists in 2013.
His decision raises fears about the independence of the judiciary and caps months of his sharp criticism of Tunisia’s judges.
Last month, he revoked all financial privileges for members of the top judicial council, which was formed in 2016 and tasked with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, disciplining judges and granting them professional promotions.
“In this council, positions and appointments are sold according to loyalties. Their place is not the place where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said in a speech in the interior ministry.
“You cannot imagine the money that certain judges have been able to receive, billions and billions,” he added.
The council’s dissolution comes on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid, with parties and organizations, including the powerful UGTT union, preparing to hold demonstrations later in the day to pressure the judiciary to hold those involved in terrorism accountable.
It is expected that Saied’s supporters also will protest in a second demonstration against the Supreme Judicial Council.
“I tell Tunisians to demonstrate freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council,” Saied said.
Saied’s approval of Sunday’s demonstrations comes even though a government decision to ban all demonstrations remains in effect.
Last month, police fired water cannons and beat protesters with sticks to break up an opposition protest against Saied, whose seizure of broad powers and declared plans to redraw the constitution have cast doubt on Tunisia’s decade-old democratic system and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for public finances.
The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum.
He has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Has Apologiseda To Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australia PM Morrison’s deputy sorry for calling leader a ‘liar’
Morrison said in a statement on Saturday that he accepted Joyce’s apology.
In a leaked message, the deputy prime minister, who heads the junior partner in Morrison’s coalition government, said last year that he had never trusted Morrison.
“He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time,” Joyce wrote to a former staffer of Morrison’s Liberal Party who had alleged sexual assault by a fellow staffer.
Joyce’s remarks further shake the political position of Morrison, who must call a federal election by May. His approval ratings have fallen over his handling of an Omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak.
“I want to apologise to the prime minister … I should have never written the text that I did,” Joyce told a news conference.
“My view from the backbench about the prime minister was based on assumption and commentary, not from a one-on-one working relationship.”
Joyce became deputy prime minister in 2021 as the leader of the National Party, not as Morrison’s appointee. Joyce’s party, which has the power to remove him as its leader, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Morrison responded, “Relationships change over time. Politicians are human beings too. We all have our frailties and none of us are perfect.”
Joyce’s text message, first reported on Friday night by Nine Newspapers, was sent through a third party to former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins. She had alleged that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House in March 2019.
The political commotion comes just days after a controversy about an alleged exchange between senior Liberal Party members making derogatory remarks about Morrison.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “untenable” for Joyce to continue as deputy prime minister.
“I couldn’t care less that the Liberal Party members all don’t like each other,” Albanese said at a briefing. “What I do care about is the consequences of a government that is dysfunctional.”
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Former Vice President Mike Pence has directly rebutted Donald Trump’s false claims that he somehow could have overturned the results of the 2020 election in the United States, saying that the former president was simply “wrong”.
In a speech to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida on Friday, Pence addressed Trump’s intensifying efforts this week to advance the false narrative that, as vice president, he had the unilateral power to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office.
“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
Pence’s declaration marked his most forceful response yet to Trump, who has spent his post-presidency stoking the lie that the 2020 campaign was stolen from him. And it comes as Pence begins laying the groundwork for a potential run for president in 2024, which could put him in direct competition with his former boss, who is also teasing a comeback run.
The relationship between the two men took on a new dynamic this week as Trump escalated his attacks on Pence.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said the committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol should instead probe “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval”. And on Sunday, he blasted Pence, falsely declaring that “he could have overturned the Election!”
Vice presidents play only a ceremonial role in the counting of Electoral College votes, and any attempt to interfere in the count would have represented an extraordinary violation of the law and an assault on the democratic process.
Pence, in his remarks on Friday to the group of lawyers in Lake Buena Vista, described January 6, 2021, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol” and framed his actions that day as in line with his duty as a constitutional conservative.
“The American people must know that we will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” he told the group on Friday.
He noted that, under Article II Section One of the Constitution, “elections are conducted at the state level, not by the Congress” and that “the only role of Congress with respect to the Electoral College is to open and count votes submitted and certified by the states. No more, no less.”
He went on to call out those who have insisted that is not the case.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he added. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
The audience applauded Pence’s line about beating the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election, but remained silent when Pence said earlier that “Trump is wrong”.
Pence was inside the Capitol on January 6, presiding over the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently smashed inside, assaulting police officers and hunting down legislators.
Pence, who released a letter moments before the session got underway that made clear he had no authority to overturn the will of the voters, was rushed to safety as some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
The former vice president, in his remarks Friday, acknowledged the lingering anger among many in Trump’s base, even as he said it was time “to focus on the future”.
“The truth is, there’s more at stake than our party or political fortunes,” he said. “Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”
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