Kerry’s Positive Statements in Egypt Not Sufficient to Overcome Legacy of Past Mistakes

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today said that positive statements from Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Egypt over the weekend will not be sufficient to overcome skepticism over the direction of U.S. policy towards a vital regional partner.  Secretary Kerry was right to point out that further support for Egypt from the United States, the international community, and from private sector investors will be linked to progress made by Egypt in advancing “political unity and justice,”  but he and the administration need to be much clearer in saying how it will react if progress in these areas continues to lag.

“Secretary Kerry’s calls for compromise and greater unity among Egypt’s polarized political factions were sharply rejected by opposition leaders, some of whom declined to meet with him and who characterized the Secretary’s benign words as unwelcome foreign interference in Egypt’s internal affairs,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.

“The representatives of Egyptian non-governmental organizations who met with the Secretary on Sunday were unconvinced by pledges of U.S. support for human rights, justice and the rule of law, which they have heard before,” Hicks added.

During his visit, Secretary Kerry announced that the U.S. government would release $190 million of an already pledged $450 million in budget support funds. He said the funding release was a good faith gesture “in light of Egypt’s extreme needs.” He also announced an initial grant of $60 million to launch of the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund to support “key engines of democratic change.”

Hicks notes that decades of support for the Mubarak dictatorship, as well as what many critics see as a tepid response to anti-democratic actions by President Morsi and the ruling Freedom and Justice Party, have left large parts of the liberal and secular opposition in Egypt skeptical of U.S. concern for promoting human rights and democracy in Egypt today.

“There is little that Secretary Kerry can do about past policies, but as a new Secretary of State at the beginning of the President’s second term he does have an opportunity to refocus U.S. policy towards Egypt on promoting universal values of freedom and human rights,” Hicks observed.

According to Hicks, this will require the United States to take clear positions against continuing efforts to restrict the free functioning of independent human rights organizations, continuing prosecution of journalists that stifle freedom of the press, and restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.  The U.S. government will also need to find ways to advance protections for women’s rights and the right of religious minorities, as well as promoting security sector reform – all issues that Kerry referred to in his remarks in Cairo.

Hicks concludes, “The U.S. government cannot control political events in Egypt, but it can stand up more visibly and more consistently for the universal values of human rights.  That will require an active response from U.S. policy makers, beginning at the embassy level, to call out violations of human rights that continue to occur and to stand in support of those in Egypt who embrace and defend democratic freedoms.”

To build on Secretary Kerry’s visit, other U.S. officials should consistently reinforce U.S. support for these principles in the weeks ahead.  In that way, the United Sates could eventually exert a positive influence on Egypt’s troubled transition process and begin slowly to rebuild the trust and credibility it has lost.

For more information, read Human Rights First’s blueprint How to Make Change in Egypt a Human Rights Success Story.

Press

Published on March 5, 2013

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