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October 07, 2013

U.S. Leadership Needed as Egyptian Violence Escalates

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First condemns the violence that occurred near Cairo on Sunday, which left 51 people dead and more than 240 injured. The organization noted that the weekend’s events are further evidence that the United States should publicly promote reconciliation in Egypt and initiate a process leading to the formation of an inclusive, civilian-led, democratic government in Cairo.

“The escalating violence in Egypt is a symptom of an unresolved political crisis that is being left to fester, resulting in a series of disturbing developments that could destabilize the region,” said Human Rights First’s Robyn Lieberman. “The United States should work with Egyptians to encourage non-violence, true political reform, and adherence to human rights and the rule of law.”

Yesterday’s street battles raged for hours as ousted-President Morsi’s supporters fired birdshot and threw firebombs at police, who responded with gunshots and tear gas. Egypt’s interior ministry says it has detained more than 400 people associated with the violent clashes that occurred on a military holiday often used to bolster national support for military regimes.

Sunday’s death toll of 51 is the highest on any given day since August 14, when hundreds died as security forces cleared out two sit-in protest camps established by Morsi supporters.

“The overall human rights environment in Egypt has been in steady decline throughout most of the transition, but things have taken a dramatic turn for the worse in the aftermath of the July 3 presidential coup,” said Lieberman. “It is not surprising that the removal of Mubarak – who stifled political opposition for decades – ultimately led to a political vacuum and a period of uncertainty.  What is regrettable is that the political contest in Egypt continues to be reduced to a binary competition between military-backed authoritarianism and Islamic extremism.”

In what human rights groups have called the deadliest political crackdown in Egypt in a decade, more than 1,000 Morsi supporters have been killed and many more arrested since August, effectively disenfranchising the Muslim Brotherhood. The crackdown started with the mass killing of hundreds of protesters on August 14 and has continued with the wholesale round-up of Muslim Brotherhood political leaders, increasing restrictions on the media, continued extension of the emergency law, and increased use of military trials against civilians in the last three months.

“Unfortunately, the continued struggle for power between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood feed off each other. Each side points to the excesses of the other as justification for its own authoritarian actions.  This has produced a vicious circle of escalating repression and instability that squeezes out alternative, more moderate political voices,” said Lieberman.
The derailing of Egypt’s democratic transition requires a much more robust response from the United States. For such violence to decrease, it will also be necessary for credible leaders associated with Morsi and the Brotherhood to adopt a discourse that consistently condemns violence.

“Indiscriminate labeling of all Brotherhood supporters as extremists and terrorists as the official rhetoric in Egypt, and the punishment of those who dare to question or depart from this official narrative, only makes such necessary reconciliation more difficult. The United States should publicly promote reconciliation and initiate a process leading to the formation of an inclusive, civilian-led, democratic government in Cairo. It should speak out against acts of violence and take the initiative to explain to Egyptians how it plans to encourage reform, human rights and the rule of law,” concluded Lieberman.

For more information or to speak with Lieberman, please contact Brenda Bowser Soder at bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.