Report Recommends Overhaul of U.S. Strategy in Egypt

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights First today released a report that describes how the Egyptian government is increasingly targeting non-violent dissenters through widespread repression in Egypt, stifling basic freedoms and exacerbating the chronic instability that has plagued the country for the past three years. The new report titled, “Back to Square One: The U.S. Government and Political Change in Egypt,”  outlines recommendations for the U.S. government to take a new course of action to advance human rights and the rule of law in order to achieve greater stability in this vital country.

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 including maintaining military-to-military cooperation on counter-terrorism, 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.

“The U.S. government’s approach during the last three years has not only made it unpopular – compounding a legacy of distrust built on more than three decades of support for autocratic rulers in Cairo – but is also failing to bring about the radical change needed in Egypt to best safeguard U.S. interests by supporting the development of a vibrant democracy and a respect for human rights and the rule of law,” said Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. “The U.S. must overhaul its approach to Egypt if it’s to really get on the right side of history.”

Although the new Egyptian constitution approved by referendum last week 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. “We’re not just back to the Mubarak era, we’ve become 1960s Eastern Europe,” said one human rights defender.

The United States’ ongoing characterization of Egypt as taking a bumpy path in the right direction to democracy fails to address the reality of political instability in the country, while implicating the United States in the repressive measures taken by the Egyptian government.  To address these concerns, Human Rights First is calling on the U.S. government to overhaul its strategy toward diplomatic action in Egypt. Today’s report calls on the U.S. government to:

  • 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.

Published on January 23, 2014


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