Six Steps for the U.S. to Support Egypt’s Successful Transition to Democracy
Washington, D.C. – As Egypt’s interim leaders announce their plan to elect a new president and parliament within the next six months, Human Rights First has detailed six levers the United States should use to ensure specific human rights and rule of law protections that will strengthen Egypt’s future stability.
“Since 2011, protests by the Egyptian people have overthrown repressive governments without achieving real democracy,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The United States has a responsibility to make clear that democracy can only flourish when key human rights and rule of law protections are in place. Egypt’s interim leaders must recognize that fact as they carry out transition plans.”
Human Rights First notes that in the wake of the Arab Spring, U.S. foreign policy toward Egypt often failed to consistently support fundamental human rights and legal protections. As Egypt works to establish democratic governance, the United States should recognize the failures of its past policies toward Egypt, engage with a cross-section of Egyptian society, and openly communicate U.S. intentions to the Egyptian public.
Noting Egypt’s strategic importance to the United States and that its successful transition to democracy depends on its ability to enact human rights and rule of law protections, Human Rights First recommends that the United States take the following six steps:
- Foreign assistance: It is clear that events in Egypt should trigger the U.S. law cutting assistance when there is a “coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role” (The ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012,” which became Public Law No. 112-74 and was continued for Fiscal Year 2013 by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013, which became Public Law 113-6 113-6). However, should the Obama Administration decide that there was not a coup or decree in which the military played a decisive role in Egypt, the United States should nonetheless pause its assistance to Egypt’s military until there are free and fair elections along with meaningful progress on the rule of law and human rights reforms. The United States should end the verbal and legal acrobatics trying to parse this question.
- International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans: Consistent with the policy goal of supporting the rule of law and human rights, the United States should use its voice and vote at the IMF to refrain from approving loans to Egypt until sound economic policies are in place and meaningful progress is made on key human rights and rule of law benchmarks. The United States should also communicate to other potential lenders and donors its assessment of Egypt’s economic progress and reliability. Egypt’s economy desperately needs liquidity, but an IMF loan absent human rights reforms is a recipe for a new economic crisis and continued instability.
- Benchmarks: U.S. actions to restart or support additional assistance should be guided by progress on the following benchmarks:
- Sexual assault. Protection from sexual assault and intimidation for women exercising their basic human rights including the rights to free speech and freedom of assembly, and prosecution of perpetrators
- Minorities. Protection of religious minority communities, their safety, and their property
- Political detention. An end to political detentions, including the rounding up of Muslim Brotherhood members
- Torture. An end to torture
- Elections. Allowing national and international observation of free and fair elections
- NGO restrictions. Dropping a proposed NGO law that would stifle free speech; overturning politically-motivated convictions of NGO workers
- Military budget transparency. Making appropriate portions of Egypt’s military budget transparent to the Egyptian population, including posting U.S. military assistance to Egypt on the Egyptian Ministry of Defense website
- Media. Allowing media outlets which don’t promote violence to operate freely
- Military trials. Ending military trials of civilians
- Freedom of expression. Dropping all “insulting the presidency” cases
- The Sinai. Securing the Sinai to prevent proliferation of terrorism as well as human and arms trafficking
- Technical assistance: Within the parameters of restrictions on funding to foreign governments, the United States should provide technical assistance to further the development of democratic institutions in Egypt. This should include reform of security forces and establishment of a free and responsible media. This assistance should be at the national and local government level as well as to civil society.
- Civil society engagement: United States officials should meet with a broad range of civil society, including human rights defenders, and cultivate relationships to discuss strategies for improving human rights conditions and the rule of law.
- Multilateral engagement: In order to expand support to advance universal values of a strong rule of law and respect for human rights–and to enhance its own credibility—the United States should focus on multilateral efforts.