Five Years After Tahrir Square, Blueprint Outlines Recommendations to Support Stability in Egypt
Washington, D.C. – On the fifth anniversary of the mass Tahrir Square protests calling for democratic reform in Egypt, Human Rights First today released a new blueprint that examines conditions in Egypt, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response to instability and human rights challenges in the country, and provides recommendations for how the U.S. government can support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights. The blueprint titled “How to Navigate Egypt’s Enduring Human Rights Crisis,” draws on dozens of interviews with Egyptian human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, families of detainees, lawyers, government officials, and others conducted during a research trip in January 2016.
“Since those early days of hope Egypt has been in a virtually constant state of political upheaval, and U.S. government’s policy towards the crisis has often been opaque and seemingly confused,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley, who authored today’s blueprint. “Measured against President Obama’s rhetoric supporting civil societies operating under repressive governments, including specific citations of Egypt, U.S. policy appears disjointed, incoherent, and sometimes contradictory, not least in providing military aid to a series of Egyptian regimes.”
The blueprint outlines key missteps in U.S. policy in Egypt since the 2011 uprising, which include a lack of support for Egyptian civil society, a failure to hold the Egyptian regime accountable for ongoing 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. Human Rights First’s interviews with Egyptian activists and civil society leaders revealed an enduring human rights crisis in the country, marked by denial of basic rights including freedom of association, assembly, and expression, as well as an opaque and unfair electoral process. Arbitrary arrests and disappearances of human rights defenders have reportedly increased in recent months, and the Egyptian government has implemented restrictive laws aimed at blocking the activities of civil society organizations and limiting their ability to function.
Key recommendations for the U.S. government in today’s blueprint include:
- Publicly withhold support for authoritarian leaders in Cairo (in concert with other like-minded governments if possible), when the government fails to protect universal rights, even if in the short-term other interests might suffer;
- Refrain from making assertions or certifications about democratic progress that have no basis in reality;
- Consistently emphasize the importance of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in high-level bilateral discussions, as an integral part of any return to credible, inclusive civilian democratic politics;
- Carry out a comprehensive reassessment of the aid relationship with Egypt, including: rebalancing military and civilian assistance; reviewing the ways in which military assistance is spent; and developing ways that U.S. assistance could be better employed to meet the basic needs of the Egyptian people;
- Closely evaluate and produce reports on the use of military aid which has been reinstated to Egypt;
- Press for reform in laws governing the functioning of NGOs to free them from government interference, burdensome registration requirements, and foreign funding restrictions;
- Send trial observers from the U.S. Embassy to politically-motivated trials of human rights defenders, if the defender so wishes, and issue public statements on the fairness of proceedings; and
- Push back forcefully against efforts to limit media freedom through legal reforms or enforcement practices.
“This year will be a defining one as violent extremism, regional conflicts, and political and economic mismanagement threaten Egypt—and as President Obama shapes his legacy in the Middle East,” wrote Dooley.