CAIRO: The US Senate passed its annual government operations package late on Tuesday with $1.5 billion earmarked as aid to Egypt for 2009.
The House of Represtatives had approved a $200 million cut in aid to Egypt on Feb. 25.
Egypt is the second biggest recipient of annual aid from the US after Israel. The expected markdown for the package is $1.3 billion in military assistance and $200 million for economic assistance.
Egypt has been receiving aid annually from the United States under the Camp David Peace accords but under the terms of the agreement, the aid depreciates by 5 percent every year. Military aid has remained constant, with the cuts being in the area of economic assistance.
Israel is to receive $2.4 billion, with total spending on foreign affairs totaling $36.6 billion out of the entire $410 billion package.
Republicans had been dead set against the bill in general, calling it wasteful, but it passed in the US Senate with a 62-35 vote. It awaits the signature of US President Barack Obama.
As the foreign aid package was announced, critics from Washington took US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to task for being soft on human rights abuses in countries that are considered American allies, including Egypt.
The Washington Post published an editorial Tuesday stating that Clinton undermined the State Department’s human rights reports released last month by visiting countries such as Egypt and Turkey and not mentioning human rights abuses that occurred there.
Clinton is currently on a visit to China and has also been criticized for not voicing concerns over human rights abuses there.
The editorial did not mention American support to Israel, or growing concerns in the US over how much American military assistance contributed to the Israeli offensive on Gaza last December, which saw more than 1,300 Palestinians killed.
The State Department issued a robust defense of Clinton’s methods and denied that she was soft on human rights abuses.
“We’re going to continue to push on human rights. But what we want to do, is we want to be more effective than previous administrations have been, said State Department Acting Spokesman Robert Wood.
“And sometimes yelling loud doesn’t necessarily help you reach that objective. You’ve got to try to come up with ways that you can use – the media or other elements of society – to influence in a positive direction the human rights situation, Wood added, “and I have heard the Secretary talk about these issues and she feels very passionately about them.
The annual Human Rights report for 2008 released by the State Department had criticized Egypt’s track record in the wake of continued abuses and singled out the government for its poor track record.
“The government’s respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas . Security forces used unwarranted lethal force and tortured and abused prisoners and detainees, in most cases with impunity, the report on Egypt read.
Clinton visited Egypt earlier this month to attend the Gaza Reconstruction conference in Sharm El-Sheikh. She did not mention the report nor comment on the human rights situation in Egypt.