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April 10, 2014

U.S. Policy Toward Egypt Should Advance Human Rights

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today urged the United States to condition its approval and support for the government in Cairo on clear progress towards human rights goals. The call came during remarks given by Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino as part of a congressional briefing hosted by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. The briefing focused on U.S. policy toward Egypt and included a presentation from Massimino along with Michael Posner, former Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and Sarah Margon, Human Rights Watch Acting Washington Director.

“The administration often talks about a ‘balance of interests’ in Egypt where human rights is one consideration among many in determining U.S. priorities. That approach is fundamentally flawed,” said Massimino. “The United States has an obligation to itself and to its reputation in the world as a defender and champion of the universal values it claims to espouse to speak honestly and clearly about the current situation in Egypt; and it has an obligation to the people of Egypt to do all that it can to persuade the Egyptian government to turn away from its current disastrous course.  Repression will not bring stability.  It has been tried before in Egypt, and it has failed.  It is time for the United States to show that it is a true friend to Egypt by speaking truth to those who currently wield power in Cairo, Field Marshall al-Sisi and his supporters.”

Since the uprising of January and February 2011, the bi-lateral relationship centered on the authoritarian in Cairo has been disrupted by chronic political instability, as Egypt has oscillated between appointed and popularly elected leaders, and between military backed authoritarian rule and Islamist populism. By continuing to support the authoritarian rulers in Egypt, the United States has become widely mistrusted by all sides of the political conflict in Egypt, who perceive a policy not rooted to any constant principles, but changing with the political winds.  This strategy has failed to support human rights and democratic reform in Egypt.

As Secretary of State John Kerry will soon decide whether to release a block of Apache helicopters to the Egyptian military, and to certify to Congress that Egypt is on a path toward democracy, Human Rights First urges the administration not to certify such progress since it is impossible to make such a case about Egypt.  Since Morsi was ousted in 2013, the military government led by General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has engaged in a brutal crackdown on the political opposition, including killing thousands of demonstrators, jailing thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and prosecuting civil society activists and journalists to stifle dissent.

Human Rights First urges the United States to stand up for universal values of human rights, the rule of law and for the development of inclusive, civilian government that can serve the interests of all Egyptians by conditioning its approval and support for the government in Cairo on clear progress towards human rights goals.  In particular the U.S. should make clear that:

  • Egypt must uphold freedom of the press. Imprisoned journalists should be released and criticism of the government should not be the basis for criminal prosecutions.
  • Egypt must permit non-violent criticism and political opposition to the government. Thousands of political prisoners who have not engaged in or incited violence should be released from prison.
  • Any election held in current circumstances with many prominent political leaders in jail or facing the threat of prosecution cannot be considered free, will not contribute to reconciliation, and will likely exacerbate conflict.
  • The rights and freedoms provided for in Egypt's new Constitution should be upheld and protected. Sweeping laws that would nullify these safeguards, like the proposed new anti-terrorism laws, should be rejected. 
  • The right to freedom of assembly should be respected.
  • Use of excessive, and often lethal, force against protesters should end.
  • Independent civil society organizations should be free to carry out their essential work without the threat of prosecution and constant harassment from the security services.

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