On human rights, the United States must be a beacon. America is strongest when our policies and actions match our values.More
Home / Blog / Waffling on Egypt, Secretary Kerry Notes Deterioration in Human Rights
February 29, 2016

Waffling on Egypt, Secretary Kerry Notes Deterioration in Human Rights

Secretary of State John Kerry changed his tune a bit last week, in yet another example of the Obama Administration’s damaging mixed messages on the human rights situation in Egypt.

At a congressional hearing on the FY17 budget request, Secretary Kerry expressed “enormous concern” over a “deterioration” over the past few months with the arrests of journalists and civil society figures. These statements, while welcome, are strikingly contrasted by some of Secretary Kerry’s other rhetoric on Egypt—such as when, just earlier this month when he met with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry, he said that Egypt is just “going through a political transition.”

In January, Human Rights First released a blueprint and timeline  on the fifth anniversary of the 2011 mass protests and brutal governmental crackdown in Egypt, highlighting how U.S. rhetoric has outrun practical policy and resulted in harmful mixed messaging.

Secretary Kerry also told the committee, “We have to try to work and thread a needle carefully that can balance the various interests that exist." But we have heard this before, and too often human rights concerns fall by the wayside, supposedly in favor security issues. In reality, upholding human rights principles enhances stability and security. There is no need to find a balance. Egypt is in a much worse situation today, in almost every respect, than it was in December 2010. Human rights conditions have worsened precipitously, and there has been no progress towards democracy. These developments have been a disaster for the Egyptian people and have not served U.S. interests.

Our blueprint outlines successive failures by the U.S. government to advance human rights in Egypt since the 2011 uprising. These include: a lack of support for Egyptian civil society, a failure to hold the Egyptian regime accountable for human rights abuses, mischaracterizations of Egypt's progress toward democracy, and the 2015 congressional decision to waive a hold on military assistance without evidence that Egypt had made any significant progress toward democratic reform.

At this week’s hearing Secretary Kerry acknowledged that Egypt’s judicial system “operates separately” and takes actions that the “Egyptian leadership finds difficult to deal with.” Indeed, Egypt has several privileged centers of power including not only the judiciary but also the army, intelligence services, and police. While each may operate with some autonomy, today’s government occupies and controls virtually all the political space in Egypt, stifling civilian dialogue and the formation of viable and credible opposition parties. With the clock ticking on the Obama Administration’s final year, Secretary Kerry has little time left to get it right on Egypt and he should seek every opportunity to raise human rights concerns.

As Secretary Kerry observed, the U.S. government has a “huge interest in making sure that Egypt doesn’t go down into a more difficult status than it is.” But his contradictory remarks will not help.