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January 28, 2011

The Obama Administration Needs a Stronger Message on Human Rights and Democracy in Egypt

New York City – Events have escalated in Egypt to the point that the government has imposed a nationwide curfew and called the army on to the streets. In response, the Obama Administration has settled on a somewhat simple message in its statements about the mounting crisis – a set of talking points that Human Rights First believes should be strengthened to specifically condemn this excessive use of force by the Egyptian security forces and make clear that it views such tactics as counterproductive.  “The State Department and White House have urged the Egyptian government to respect the basic rights to freedom of expression and assembly of the protesters, to turn on the Internet and restore access to social networking sites.  President Obama and other officials have also called for restraint and non-violence from government forces and protesters, but that does not go far enough,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “The situation in Egypt is serious and it demands a serious response – one that makes clear that the United States will not tolerate government use of force and unwarranted censorship to silence dissidents.” According to Human Rights First, the Obama Administration must recognize that almost all of the violence occurring in Egypt is coming from the side of the government.  Riot police have repeatedly used tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and water cannon against peaceful demonstrators throughout the week.  Moreover, uniformed riot police are supplemented by plain clothed thugs armed with truncheons and iron bars who randomly assault protesters.  Journalists have been among the victims of police violence. “We are equally concerned about reports that opposition figures are being subjected to arbitrary detention, among them opposition leader Mohamed El-Baradei, who is under house arrest,” Hicks continued.  “The administration should call for the immediate release of all political prisoners, and should urge the Egyptian government to announce its readiness to engage in dialogue with the opposition and to respond to the protesters’ legitimate grievances.” Hicks noted that the lack of democracy in Egypt, exemplified by the brazenly rigged parliamentary elections held at the end of 2010, is one of the root causes of the unrest in Egypt.  In response, Human Rights First notes that the U.S. government should now call on the Egyptian authorities to commit to implementing reforms necessary to permit free and fair elections well in advance of presidential elections scheduled for the fall of this year, and to holding new parliamentary elections in an atmosphere of transparency and basic fairness that was absent from last year’s vote.  These include: granting access to independent international election monitors; allowing independent Egyptian election monitors to carry out their activities free from obstruction and interference; restoring the role of the Egyptian judiciary in supervising the elections and amending the law to remove restrictions on opposition candidates standing as candidates.  Hicks concluded, “The Obama administration must signal that it has turned the page from the old policy of toleration of oppression by its Egyptian ally in the name of stability.  As well as being contrary to principles of universal human rights and democracy which the administration has pledged to uphold everywhere, recent events in Tunisia and now in Egypt have shown that repression does not bring stability.”

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