Freedom Forward joined with the Project on Middle East Democracy and 19 organizations to urge the Biden Administration “to suspend all arms transfers to Egypt in order to comply with longstanding U.S. law” and to block $300 million in specific military funding that carries key human rights conditions.
Full text of the letter:
Dear Mr. Secretary (Blinken) and Mr. Sullivan,
We, the undersigned organizations, urge the administration not to provide the $300 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) to Egypt conditioned on key human rights benchmarks. The Egyptian government has continued to carry out egregious and systemic abuses of fundamental rights and freedoms, resulting in its abject failure to meet the congressionally mandated human rights conditions. Providing this additional military aid to Egypt in these circumstances would contradict the frequent pledges from the Biden administration to put human rights at the center of U.S. foreign policy, including specifically its relationship with Egypt.
Over the past year, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has tightened his unilateral grip on power and maintained his brutal repression, perpetuating a human rights crisis that is deeply destabilizing for the country. As the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices notes, the Egyptian government has committed a staggering number of gross human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, torture, life-threatening prison conditions, arbitrary and political detentions, transnational repression, widespread media censorship, and significant restrictions on the right to free expression, assembly, and association. President al-Sisi also expanded his own power through the rubber-stamp parliament, permanently codifying provisions of the state of emergency, and he continues to target and constrain human rights defenders and civil society activists despite his government proclaiming this the “Year of Civil Society.”
In an attempt to whitewash these abuses on the global stage—similar to the Egyptian cabinet’s creation of a Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights in 2018—the Egyptian government has launched a number of initiatives such as issuing a National Strategy for Human Rights, reestablishing the Presidential Pardon Committee, and most recently announcing a National Dialogue. While these efforts have been accompanied by some political prisoners being released, more have been arrested or had their pretrial detentions renewed than have been released since April 2022, and thousands more remain in detention.
The consistent pattern of human rights abuses committed by the Egyptian government, and evidence that U.S. military equipment has been used in such violations, should require the administration to suspend all arms transfers to Egypt in order to comply with longstanding U.S. law. Short of that, it is necessary to withhold the full $300 million, as the FY2021 Omnibus allows for. The FY2021 law provides $1.3 billion in FMF, of which $1 billion that contained no human rights conditions was already obligated earlier this year. The law clearly states that $225 million in FMF, subject to a national security waiver, should be withheld until the Egyptian government has taken “sustained and effective steps” on several human rights conditions, while a further $75 million, not subject to a national security waiver, is conditioned on the Egyptian government “making clear and consistent progress in releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law.” We therefore strongly refute claims that the administration is legally barred from withholding more than $130 million in FMF, as the State Department indicated last year, compared to the $300 million outlined in the law.
The administration’s decision in January to reprogram $130 million in FY2020 FMF following the Egyptian government’s failure to meet specific human rights conditions resulted in some political prisoner releases and, as yet incomplete, steps toward closing Case 173. This is an important indicator of the Egyptian government’s responsiveness to U.S. concerns over rights issues when those concerns are backed by concrete actions. While welcome, the reprogramming was insufficient given the severity of the human rights crisis in Egypt, and its impact was undermined by the administration’s decision to move forward concurrently with a $2.5 billion arms sale and to obligate $1 billion in unconditioned military aid.
By following through on its human rights commitments, the Biden administration can help improve Egypt’s horrific rights climate and, in the process, send a strong message to President al-Sisi, and to governments and people around the world, that respect for human rights is a core aspect of U.S. national security interests.
Thank you for your consideration, and we would welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you further.
Belady: An Island for Humanity (BIH)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
The Center for International Policy (CIP)
Committee for Justice (CFJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN)
Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)
Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF)
EgyptWide for Human Rights
The Freedom Initiative
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
MENA Rights Group
Open Society Policy Center (OSPC)
Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)