President Obama Urged to Suspend Aid to Egypt Until Human Rights are Restored
Washington, D.C. – The Working Group on Egypt today sent a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to suspend aid to Egypt until it makes strides in its transition to democracy and improves the human rights conditions for Egyptians. Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks is a member of the Working Group on Egypt.
“The United States cannot control what happens in Egypt, but a consistent U.S. stand for democracy and human rights can influence the political trajectory of this important U.S. ally,” wrote the signatories of today’s letter. “Such a strategy will be far more successful over time than subsidizing a brutal crackdown and putting U.S. credibility behind a political arrangement that works against U.S. interests as well as those of Egyptian citizens.”
Three years after hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters were in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities calling for more representative government, Egypt continues to be beset by problems of political instability, a fragile economy, religious intolerance and a large scale crackdown against voices of dissent. The U.S. government, in service of a few narrowly defined goals – such as maintaining military-to-military cooperation on counterterrorism, stability in the Suez Canal, continued adherence to the Camp David Accords, and support for the U.S. manufacturing base – has been unwilling to move beyond an approach where it supports the central power in Cairo.
In today’s letter, signatories urged President Obama to direct Secretary of State John Kerry “not to certify that Egypt’s government has met the Congressionally-mandated conditions solely, or primarily, on the basis of its holding elections or following other procedural aspects of democracy while it also carries out massive human rights violations with impunity. The hollowness of the recent constitutional referendum was made clear by the government’s blatant disregard of the rights and freedoms the new Constitution purports to protect, notably the rights of freedom of assembly and expression that were crudely denied before and after the vote.”
Although the new Egyptian constitution approved by referendum last month includes language safeguarding basic rights and freedoms, adopting the constitution falls short of taking concrete action toward upholding these rights in practice. Flagrant violations of the right to freedom of assembly have recently been imposed including a new anti-protest law, introduced in November 2013, which effectively bans gatherings of more than 10 people without approval and requires notification of the authorities three days in advance. Thousands of the government’s political opponents have been jailed and are subject to judicial proceedings that lack fairness and appear selective. Freedom of expression is being crudely suppressed, and there is a witch-hunt against human rights defenders and liberal secular activists.
Human Rights First recently released a report outlining recommendations for the U.S. government to overhaul its strategy toward diplomatic action in Egypt. These recommendations include:
- Provide clear, sustained and consistent public statements from Washington on its assessment of the situation in Egypt and the ramifications for U.S. interests, including human rights and democracy;
- Clarify how U.S. administration officials propose to promote human rights and democracy in Egypt within the legislative framework of the recently adopted FY14 Omnibus Appropriation, which appears to weaken human rights and democracy conditions attached to U.S. foreign assistance, which is primarily military assistance, to Egypt;
- Work with its donor partners to establish sizeable, sustained economic incentives for Egypt’s leaders that should be conditioned on Egypt adhering to democratic norms and international human rights standards;
- Use its vote and influence at the IMF to withhold loans to Egypt until sound economic policies are in place and meaningful progress is made on human rights and the rule of law;
- Use targeted funding to support civil society efforts to combat human rights abuses and promote an enabling environment that advances religious pluralism and tolerance;
- Promote clear, uniform conditions for the registration and operation of political parties that agree to be bound by the rules of peaceful, democratic contestation;
- Push the Egyptian authorities to investigate all incidents of violence against Christians, assaults on their property and institutions, and hold accountable those responsible; and
- Make available through the Justice Department, resources for prosecutions and police trainings.