Cairo Family Targeted as US Embassy Tweets Support for Egypt’s Security Forces
When Hoda Ahmed heard her son Abdelrahman Elshwekh had been severely tortured in Egypt’s Minya prison she went on social media and asked for help.
On Monday night, security officers raided her home in Cairo. They arrested her, her husband, and her 18-year-old daughter.
They are all still in detention, and she has been charged with belonging to a terrorist organization. At the time of writing, it is not known where they are being held.
Egypt’s repressive government continues to target dissent, and for all of the Biden administration’s talk about putting human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy, Washington continues to enable the dictatorship of President Abdel Fattah el Sisi and his violent security forces.
Here’s the background: her son, 29-year-old Adbelraham, has been in prison for seven years after being convicted by the military court even though he is a civilian. On April 6, prison officers attacked him. They tortured and raped him. The abuse lasted five days before he was finally hospitalized.
When his mother heard about what had happened she spoke to the media and was arrested.
As the horrific story of what was happening to the Elshwekh family was being shared on Twitter, the U.S. embassy was tweeting reminders that the U.S. government arms the Egyptian military, and “defense co-operation with Egypt is a cornerstone of our strategic partnership…”
There were no mentions of human rights; no discussion of its centrality to American foreign policy; no mention of what happened to Hoda, her son, or the rest of the family.
This isn’t just about bad optics for the embassy or about U.S. diplomats being tone-deaf to the message they send.
Endorsing Egyptian security forces so enthusiastically and publicly is a serious problem for Washington and American foreign policy.
It undermines the administration’s credibility across the region. As Human Rights First has documented, abuse by prison guards drives prisoners into the arms of ISIS gangs inside jails, and fuels extremism.
And as Human Rights First has been reporting for decades to successive administrations, shoring up violent dictatorships is bad policy for the U.S. Last week we joined other NGOs in urging the U.S. not to send $300 million in military aid to Egypt unless human rights conditions were being met by Cairo.
Sending that aid would only reinforce the growing cynicism among Egyptians and across the region that the new administration talks about human rights but balks at acting to support them.
To really foreground human rights, the U.S. administration should speak out publicly at all levels, including from their embassy’s Twitter account, against what is happening to the Elshwekh family. They should make clear that unless torture ends in Egypt’s prisons, there will be no more military aid from Washington.