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April 28, 2014

Egyptian Foreign Minister’s Visit is an Opportunity to Send a Clear Message on Human Rights

Washington D.C.  – Human Rights First today urged the Obama Administration to promote human rights during meetings this week with Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy. Fahmy’s diplomatic visit to the United States follows today’s news reports that an Egyptian court has sentenced more than 680 political dissidents to death.

“The Obama administration should make clear its disapproval of widespread violations of human rights and disregard for the rule of law and basic freedoms by the Egyptian government during the visit to the United States by Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “Unfortunately, by announcing that it would release some of the military assistance to Egypt that had been suspended because of concerns over the violations that occurred after the overthrow of President Morsi in July 2013, the administration has given the impression to many that it supports the direction of the military backed government in Cairo.”

In a press statement issued on Friday, April 25, the Egyptian Embassy in Washington D.C. welcomed the move, claiming that the announcement “underscores the enduring strategic partnership between our two nations.” Since the announcement that the United States will release ten Apache attack helicopters to the Egyptian military, a court in Minya has sentenced a further 680 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death after summary proceedings that did not constitute a fair trial. Additionally, at least two protesters were killed in pro-Morsi demonstrations over the weekend, adding to a tally of over 2,500 killed in demonstrations since July 3, 2013, and a court in Cairo ordered that the April 6 youth movement, which played a leading role in the protests that brought down President Mubarak in February 2011, should be closed down for “collaborating with foreign powers and ‘committing acts that distort the image of the Egyptian state.’” 

The Egyptian government claims that it is engaged in a struggle against terrorism and is anxious to enlist the United States as its ally in this fight.  Human Rights First urges Secretary Kerry and other U.S. policy makers who meet with Minister Fahmy to resist this invitation.  Political violence in Egypt has risen alarmingly in recent months, including state violence against protesters and other citizens and violence directed against the security forces and others by militant extremist groups.

“There is little doubt that the policies pursued by the military backed government of violently suppressing dissent, restricting basic freedoms of expression and assembly, and jailing thousands of political prisoners with little regard for legal safeguards are contributing to a vicious circle of escalating violence and chronic unrest in Egypt,” noted Hicks. “The United States needs a strong, peaceful, stable Egypt as its strategic partner.  That will require a radical change in course by the military backed regime in Cairo, away from repression and to the rule of law, civilian led representative government and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in practice, not just in press statements from the Egyptian Embassy.”

The Egyptian government points to this escalating violence as a reason to extend uncritical support to it - a familiar, discredited and dangerous argument. Choosing between backing authoritarianism or facing the risk of greater instability is a false choice, and the U.S. government should make clear to the Egyptian government that stability in Egypt will not be brought about through repression.

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