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April 05, 2019

Administration Urged to Demand Human Rights Improvements During Sisi Visit

Washington, D.C.—Ahead of next week’s White House visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Human Rights First today called on the Trump Administration to raise Egypt’s dismal human rights record and use military aid to push for meaningful reform. The visit, framed as a discussion on Egypt’s role as a stable leader in the region, comes as Sisi is set to amend his country’s constitution to extend his presidency until 2034.

“President Sisi is the latest dictator with blood on his hands to receive the White House red carpet treatment. He’s coming to get international political cover for his power grab,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The administration is wrong about Egypt being a stable bet, and wrong that Sisi is a strong partner in the fight against international terrorism. If President Trump can’t see what a bad idea it is to enable dictators—for Egypt, for the Middle East, and for U.S. national security—Congress must step in, and use the military aid to push for meaningful reform.”

Since taking power in a 2013 coup, Sisi has cracked down on dissent, imprisoning thousands and stoking anger across the political spectrum. Human Rights First recently issued a new report detailing how ISIS is recruiting tortured detainees across Egypt’s vast penal system. Based on interviews with former political prisoners, it describes how ISIS is exploiting the widespread abuse in Egypt's jails and prisons. No one knows how many political prisoners there are in Egypt, though estimates are generally at least 60,000, and many, if not most, face the pain and humiliation of torture.  

“When Sisi meets Trump, he’ll claim his country is stable. But his jails are crammed with tortured political prisoners being recruited by ISIS,” added Dooley. “As long as Sisi operates with impunity, extremism will grow, threatening upheaval, not just in Egypt, but across the Middle East.”

Last July, Secretary of State Pompeo lifted holds on $195 million in Fiscal Year 2018 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt that had been previously suspended by his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, on human rights grounds. The decision to release the money to Egypt's repressive government, despite no progress on human rights, will encourage that government to jail and torture political opposition and human rights activists.

For more information or to speak with Dooley, contact Christopher Plummer at [email protected] or 202-370-3310.