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June 03, 2014

Egyptian Election Demonstrates Need for Change in U.S. Policy

Washington, DC – Today, Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks and other members of the Working Group on Egypt urged President Obama to overhaul U.S. policy toward Egypt following the sham election of President Abdel Fattah al Sisi and the widespread violations of human rights that have occurred over the past months. The call, spurred by this election, came in a letter issued to the president asking him not to certify that the Egyptian government has met the congressional condition of taking “steps to support a democratic transition” needed to release suspended military assistance.

“In the context of unprecedented human rights violations—including tens of thousands imprisoned, mass trials, reports of widespread torture and sexual abuse in detention, and a wholesale exclusion of dissenters from politics—the Egyptian authorities’ adherence to superficial electoral procedures is meaningless,” wrote the working group. “We ask you to continue withholding aid not only out of concern for democracy and human rights, but also because Egypt is experiencing a dangerous mix of social polarization, political repression, terrorism, and economic deterioration. With Egypt in turmoil and a leadership in Cairo unwilling to change direction, the responsible course of action for the United States is to reshape its side of the bilateral relationship to better meet U.S. security interests as well as the needs of the Egyptian people.”

Since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, political violence and radicalization in Egypt has risen alarmingly, including state violence against protesters and other citizens and violence directed against the security forces and others by militant extremist groups. President Sisi has shown no sign that he plans to adopt policies that will take the country off its current path of instability, and there is no evidence that the United States could persuade him to change course even if it restored all suspended aid.

The Working Group asked the administration to shift its policies to emphasize the direct link between the rights and freedoms of Egypt’s people and the national security of both countries, to restructure U.S. assistance away from the Egyptian military and toward the people, and adopt public and private U.S. positions in favor of real democracy and prosperity for all Egyptians by:

  • Drastically reducing security assistance;
  • Redesigning security assistance to meet specific objectives rather than providing expensive weapons for which Egypt has no need;
  • Suspending all aid that would go directly to the military, outside urgent counterterrorism needs, until the conditions and certification requirements in the FY14 Appropriations bill have been met;
  • Ending cash flow financing—the special arrangement for military aid that allows Egypt to make demands on U.S.public resources before they have been approved by our Congress;
  • Shifting the bulk of its support to a smaller number of signature programs focused on the needs of the Egyptian people and that, moreover, can be carried out without excessive bureaucracy or politicization by the Egyptian government;
  • Working in coordination with its donor partners to put together a package of substantial economic support in the form of loan guarantees, preferential trading agreements, and other incentives that would be provided only based on Egypt’s adherence to international human rights standards and transparent public oversight of the military’s extensive economic interests; and
  • Continuing to support Egypt’s embattled civil society organizations and, more broadly, citizens who seek an open political system that fully protects human rights.

“We understand the United States will rightly continue to work with the Egyptian government on some key issues, particularly counter terrorism, border security, and the peace treaty with Israel,” noted the group. “However, the relationship with Egypt should no longer be primarily based on a partnership with a military that has hijacked the country’s nascent democracy.”

For more information or to speak with Hicks, please contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.