What Deputy Secretary Burns Should Tell the New Egyptian Government

Washington, D.C. – While he is in Egypt this week, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns rightly began to outline to the new Egyptian government and to the Egyptian people key U.S. government hopes for human rights protections to strengthen Egypt’s stability and democracy, said Human Rights First.

“Deputy Secretary Burns said today that the United States is committed to Egypt’s democratic success and prosperity and that the U.S. wants a strong Egypt that is stable, democratic, inclusive, and tolerant. The United States wants an Egypt that addresses the needs and respects the rights of all of its citizens. What Burns said is an encouraging start to the new U.S. relationship with Egypt, and the United States should now spell out in more detail how it will help Egypt make those things happen,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The U.S. should take this chance to recalibrate its engagement with Egypt for the long term, prioritizing issues of human rights and democracy that will encourage stability.”

The United States gives Egypt approximately $1.5 billion in annual assistance, most of which flows to the Egyptian military. It should harness its leverage in multiple areas including trade, International Monetary Fund loans, foreign assistance, and multilateral and civil society engagement. Human Rights First recommends that the United States government take the following seven steps to encourage democracy and stability in Egypt.:

  1. Trade leverage: In order to compete with aid/grant packages such as that of Qatar and Saudi Arabia totaling $8 billion (compared to U.S. assistance of about $1.5 billion, most of which goes to Egypt’s military), the U.S. should use its economic strength to offer Egypt more favorable trade terms that would decrease Egyptian unemployment and increase stability. More favorable trade terms should be contingent upon democratic and free elections and meaningful human rights and rule of law reforms in Egypt.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Benchmarks: U.S. actions to restart or support additional assistance should be guided by progress on the following benchmarks:


a)     Elections. Allowing national and international observation of free and fair elections

b)    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

c)     Minorities. Protection of religious minority communities, their safety, and their property

d)    Political detention. An end to political detentions, including the rounding up of Muslim Brotherhood members

e)     Torture. An end to torture

f)     NGO restrictions. Dropping a proposed NGO law that would stifle free speech; overturning politically-motivated convictions of NGO workers

g)    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

h)     Media. Allowing media outlets which don’t promote violence to operate freely

i)      Military trials. Ending military trials of civilians

j)      Freedom of expression. Dropping all “insulting the presidency” cases

k)     The Sinai. Securing the Sinai to prevent proliferation of terrorism as well as human and arms trafficking


Published on July 15, 2013


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