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State Department Says It Can Push Democracy While Continuing To Sell Weapons To Egypt


The Biden administration's State Department says it can push for human rights and democracy in Egypt while it continues to supply the country with weapons. That's the way it explained its approach this week, as it juggled these issues. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Egyptian American Mohamed Soltan believes Egypt is punishing him for his human rights activism in Washington. His father has disappeared from an Egyptian jail, and authorities again raided the homes of several of his cousins.

MOHAMED SOLTAN: All houses that were raided were asked about me, about who communicates with me in the household. This is the second time that this happened in less than a year.

KELEMEN: Two out of three of his cousins who were detained this week have been released, but Soltan is worried about this trend.

SOLTAN: This is family hostage-taking policy. I am only one of many. This is not just a message to me, but a message to all of the human rights defenders, all of the critics, all of the dissidents outside of Egypt that, literally, the arm of the state can reach you anywhere. And it's working. People are scared.

KELEMEN: State Department spokesperson Ned Price says the U.S. is raising this with Egyptian authorities, who haven't commented.

NED PRICE: We won't tolerate assaults or threats by foreign governments against American citizens or their family members.

KELEMEN: But the State Department also gave the green light this week for a nearly $200 million sale of surface-to-air missiles to Egypt. Price says the weapons are meant to help Egypt's navy defend the Suez Canal. Soltan says Egyptian authorities see it this way.

SOLTAN: It was understood as a sort of a wink, wink, nudge, nudge - that interests prevail

KELEMEN: While U.S. values and human rights are secondary.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.