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April 19, 2019

Response to Egypt's Referendum on Constitutional Changes

This weekend, Egyptians will vote on a controversial referendum to amend the country’s constitution to prolong President Abdel Al Fattah Sisi's tenure in office. The vote will extend Sisi’s current four-year term to six years, and enable him to run again—for the third consecutive time—for another six years, allowing him to stay in power until 2030. The changes would also concentrate more power in the presidency and in the country's military.

The vote comes after a visit by Sisi to the White House, where President Trump praised the Egyptian president, despite Egypt's appalling human rights record.

In advance of the vote, Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley issued the following statement:

The Trump Administration shouldn't applaud President Sisi's power grab. This is a rigged vote in a sham show of democracy, and cementing Sisi into power until 2030 doesn't make Egypt more stable, it makes it more fragile.

Sisi is counterproductive ally on counter terrorism. Our latest report details how his abusive prisons are churning out recruits for ISIS, as tortured detainees, seeking revenge, are turning to violent extremism. His government's repression is fueling exactly the terrorism it's pretending to fight: by closing avenues for peaceful dissent, by torturing prisoners, and by suffocating democracy, Sisi's regime is creating the perfect environment for violent extremism to thrive.

The bogus referendum will keep Sisi in power for more than another decade, and give him even more authority to crush dissent. This is an historic moment for Egypt and an historic choice for the United States, as it weighs whether to continue its support for Sisi's volatile authoritarianism.

We know what happens when Washington supports too much power being concentrated in the hands of one man. From Pinochet in Chile to the Shah of Iran, from Mobutu in Zaire to Suharto in Indonesia, these dictatorships don't end well. Trump has been the cheerleader in chief for Sisi, and it's time for Congress to step in to remind the slow learners in the administration that supporting strong men is feeble policy.

Congress should pass legislation severely cutting U.S. military aid to Egypt, and make future aid dependent on radical improvements on human rights. The Unites States can't afford Sisi's recklessness in producing violent extremism.

Dooley is author of Human Rights First's latest report on Egypt - Like Fire in a Forest, an account of how ISIS is recruiting in Egypt's abusive prisons. To speak to Dooley contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org.