Biden Faces Golden Opportunity To Send Signal to Cairo on Human Rights
It's good to see the White House voicing support for human rights defenders in Egypt, and good to see that Secretary of State Tony Blinken had an online discussion with Egyptian human rights defender Hossam Bahgat this week.
Rhetoric matters, and it costs Washington nothing to say the right things about human rights and those who defend them.
But the talk needs to be joined by the walk, and the Biden administration now has a golden chance to back up the words with action.
Secretary Blinken is about to decide whether to send or withhold $300 million in military aid to Egypt. That aid is supposed to be conditioned on human rights progress by President Sisi's government. There hasn't been the required progress, but Blinken can waive that condition if he wants to, and send the aid anyway. He shouldn't.
Human Rights First joined with other NGOs in a letter made public today calling on the Biden administration to withhold the aid.
During his presidential campaign, President Biden promised there would be "no more blank checks for Trump's favorite dictator [Sisi]." He said that releasing the aid would send all the wrong signals - to the Sisi's government (who will think it can carry on repressing human rights and still get aid), to the human rights community in Egypt (who will feel betrayed by Washington after all the supportive rhetoric from the White House), to other dictators in the middle east (who will read it as a sign that the new administration will say things it won't back up), and to the wider world (who will think much the same).
For many years, successive U.S. administrations have invoked this waiver to get around the human rights conditions, and we have watched Egypt's human rights record steadily deteriorate.
Human Rights First has documented human rights abuses in Egypt for decades. Journalists and human rights defenders are routinely imprisoned for criticizing the government. Female social media influencers and rape survivors are prosecuted on vague “morality” charges. In 2019, Human Rights First released a report on how torture in Egypt’s prisons drives fresh recruits into the arms of ISIS gangs. Cairo's human rights violations aren't just morally wrong, they're dangerous for U.S. national security.
Local activists in Egypt have told us they want Blinken to stop this latest $300 million in military aid from being delivered into the hands of the government persecuting them.
We like the White House's rhetoric on human rights in Egypt. But to borrow from Elvis, could we have a little less conversation and a little more action, please?