On Monday September 19, 2016, the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights sent the following joint letter to Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, Secretary Hillary Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump respectively ahead of their separate meetings with Egyptian President, Abdel-Fattah El Sisi during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly. The letter points to the need for a constructive approach to US-Egypt relations that recognizes the link between democratic reforms and national security.
September 19, 2016
Dear 2016 Presidential Candidates,
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights write to you ahead of your meetings with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi during the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly. Egypt is facing significant challenges, and it is vital to show President Sisi that the United States is committed to a constructive approach to bilateral relations that emphasizes the need to address threats to both democratic reforms and national security.
An unprecedented crackdown on Egyptian civil society, coupled with significant and continuous human rights violations, plagues the country. The infamous 2012-2013 foreign funding case, in which 15 American employees at nongovernmental organizations were sentenced to prison in absentia, has been reopened. Human rights defenders continue to face travel bans, asset freezes, and attempted organizational closures. On Saturday, September 17, the Cairo Criminal Court ruled in favor of freezing the assets of a group of human rights defenders including Hossam Bahgat, Gamal Eid, and Bahey Eldin Hassan. The verdict demonstrates the Egyptian government’s continued disregard for its international and domestic obligations to guarantee freedoms of expression, association, and movement. The closure of institutional spaces and constraints upon civil society prevent Egypt from addressing the practices that plague it and allow human rights violations to continue unfettered
Last month, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information reported that nearly 60 percent of the 106,000 citizens in Egypt’s jails are political prisoners. Forced disappearances are on the rise, with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms reporting 789 cases over the last year. In August 2016 alone, rights NGO El Nadeem documented ten deaths inside prisons and police stations, 76 cases of torture and mistreatment, and 99 Egyptians killed by police and armed forces. Controversy continues over the killing of Italian Ph.D. student Giulio Regeni, whose tortured body was found on a desert road; the Egyptian government has yet to present convincing evidence that they are investigating his death.
These repressive measures have been characterized by the Egyptian government as necessary for Egypt’s security and stability. With terrorist attacks increasing threefold between 2013 and 2015, however, we believe that the assertion that freedom and democracy are to be traded in for security is a false one. Rather, the continued crackdown has fueled instability and served as a recruitment tool for radicals. Videos released by the Islamic State in May, for example, cite the futility of peaceful protest and emphasize the government crackdown to bolster recruitment to Wilayat Sinai, the group’s Egyptian arm.
The incoming administration should press the Egyptian government to take steps to respect the rights and freedoms of the Egyptian people. Prisoners of conscience currently jailed as part of cases reflecting the egregious extent of the crackdown, including author Ahmed Naji, photojournalist Mahmoud “Shawkan” Abu Zeid, and American citizen and NGO founder Aya Hijazi, must be released. NGOs must be permitted to operate without government interference and the problematic NGO law put forth most recently by the Egyptian cabinet must be dramatically overhauled to respect the country’s international human rights duties.
As you both sit down with President Sisi this week, we urge you to reconsider the false dichotomy between Egyptian citizens’ rights and freedoms and the country’s security threats. Egypt continues to be a key security partner to the United States. However, bilateral relations between the two nations cannot improve if the Egyptian government continues to embrace repressive measures that paralyze its civil society. We urge the next president of the United States to view bilateral relations with Egypt as an opportunity to constructively work towards a positive dynamic that speaks to American interests, while honoring the rights and demands of the Egyptian people.
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights