Egypt Resists Linking US Aid to Rights

Egypt Resists Linking US Aid to Rights

Egypt”s president hinted Tuesday his government would resist U.S. attempts to link military aid with alleged human rights abuses, saying the key American ally refuses “any interference in our affairs.”

President Hosni Mubarak”s comments, an apparent reference to proposed U.S. legislation for cutting the country”s aid, won applause from among the more than 6,000 delegates to his ruling National Democratic Party”s general convention.

Egypt receives $1.3 billion a year in U.S. military aid along with other assistance that makes it the second-largest recipient of American foreign aid after Israel.

“We protect Egypt”s sovereignty and independence and reject any pressure and conditions, and we refuse any interference in our affairs,” Mubarak said.

Mubarak did not mention the United States by name, but Egyptian state-owned media have recently attacked the Bush administration for its criticism of Mubarak.

Earlier this year, members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation that would withhold $200 million in military aid from Egypt. House members said Egypt must curb its police abuse, reform its judicial system and stop arms smuggling into the neighboring Gaza Strip.

In 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made Egypt a focus of the Bush administration”s goal for greater democracy in the Middle East, but the administration backed off public criticism when Egypt resisted the pressure.

Egyptian reform activists accused Washington of putting calls for democracy on the shelf to ensure Cairo”s backing on the Mideast peace process, Iraq and other issues.

While U.S. officials insist they have always kept the pressure on privately, public criticism from the White House and Congress has increased in recent months.

At issue is Ayman Nour, a challenger to Mubarak who came in a distant second in the country”s first openly contested presidential elections in 2005. He is serving a five-year prison sentence over allegations that he forged papers to set up his political party — a charge he and his supporters say was fabricated to eliminate him as a rival.

Mubarak, 79, has ruled Egypt for more than a quarter century and has no designated successor, resulting in periodic scares over his health and the future of the country.