Biden Administration Faces Imminent Decision on Egyptian Military Aid as 12 Await Execution
Twelve men on death row in Egypt are awaiting imminent execution for their alleged part in the 2013 Cairo sit-in protests. The 12 were sentenced to death in a sham mass trial of 739 defendants, including children.
The men are convicted of participating in the largely peaceful Raba’a sit-in protesting the Egyptian army’s removal of the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi. Eight years ago this week, on August 14, 2013, security forces violently attacked the protestors, killing hundreds and injuring at least 1,000 protesters. It was a massacre.
I was in Cairo that Wednesday, visiting activists from all over the city and getting reports on the killings. In the previous days, U.S. diplomats told me they had been assured by the Egyptian authorities there would be no forced dispersal of the protest, which had been going on for six weeks. They said that the security forces had also told the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), on a visit to Cairo the week before, there would be no attack on the protestors. They had been lied to.
On the evening of the massacre, as killings continued on the streets of the city, I wrote from Cairo that “U.S. government aid to the military should be suspended after today’s violence. The resumption of military aid should be conditioned on the implementation of a credible program of national reconciliation in Egypt, and the empowerment of an inclusive, civilian-led government with control over the military and security forces.”
But the Obama administration didn’t end the military aid, and successive U.S. administrations’ failures to do so has enabled the human rights situation in Egypt to spiral into permanent crisis, with human rights defenders jailed and torture rife in Egypt’s prison system.
Every U.S. administration since the 2013 massacre has plied the regime with approximately $1.3 billion in military aid every year. In the coming days, the Biden administration must decide whether it will give an extra $300 million to the Egyptian government in military aid on top of the $1 billion it has already released this year. The $300 million is supposed to be contingent on Egypt having made progress on human rights. It hasn’t, and the U.S. shouldn’t reward it with the extra aid.
The U.S. should not send the aid and should make clear that Egypt will receive no further military aid until there is real progress on human rights. It could start by publicly condemning Egypt’s case against the 12 men awaiting execution.
Last week, Human Rights First joined ten other NGOs urging U.S. members of Congress to press the Biden administration to “urgently engage with the Egyptian authorities to urge them to halt these executions.”
The administration should go further, and press for greater inclusivity in political institutions to make Egypt more stable, an end to the targeting of human rights defenders, and an end to the abuse and torture of prisoners which — as Human Rights First detailed in a report released last month — drives new recruits into the arms of ISIS.
These have been eight wasted, tragic years for Egypt, for which the U.S. government shares responsibility. Continuing to support the regime in Cairo isn’t only morally wrong, it does deep and lasting damage to the U.S. government’s claims to be on the side of democracy and human rights.
In February, President Joe Biden warned that the world’s democracies were “under assault” from authoritarian regimes and that the world was “in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world, between those who argue that … autocracy is the best way forward and those who understand that democracy is essential to meeting these challenges.” After the Trump era, he said, the U.S. was determined “to earn back our position of trust and leadership.”
That sounds great. But the White House can’t earn any trust, let alone lead, on combating authoritarian regimes until it stops supporting the one in Egypt.