Amid Egypt’s ongoing criticisms from human rights groups, a coalition of non-profit organizations called on the U.S. government recently to continue limiting its funding to the Egyptian military. Ten organizations, focused primarily on human rights and LGBTQ issues, signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to uphold a decision made last summer that reduced aid from the United States to Egypt for military support, typically about $1.3 billion, by $195 million. In the letter, the organizations state that Tillerson should continue to withhold the funds until the Egyptian government has addressed some of its numerous allegations of human rights abuses, especially amongst LGBTQ populations. Demands in the letter include releasing LGBTQ people who have been imprisoned since a government crackdown in September 2017, the dropping of prosecutions against NGOs, stops to other forms of government restrictions against LGBTQ populations and NGOs, as well as government punishment for voicing dissenting opinions.
“Over the last several years, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has initiated a crackdown on civil society and human rights that has surpassed anything seen in that country in recent memory,” the letter says.
In addition to issues addressed specifically in the letter, Egypt has faced widespread scrutiny over its increased government crackdown on free speech in recent years, as well as numerous human rights abuses. Waves of arrests have followed an effective ban of public protest and dissent, and human rights organizations and their leaders have faced asset freezes, detainment, travel bans, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). This is aided by the country’s security forces, who allegedly engage in torture and abuse against detainees under these measures, HRW says. Their report of Egypt’s human rights abuses, and the assistance of its security forces, also notes the disappearance of suspects under these laws, with little explanation, due process, or consequence. A ban against freedom of assembly of anti-government protesters has been in place since 2013, despite a continued legal challenge.
It’s unclear, however, whether the United States will actually continue to restrict its already sizable contributions to Egypt’s military budget. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi spoke with U.S. President and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud on March 4, the former in a phone conference, and the latter during an in person visit in Cairo, according to the Associated Press. El-Sisi’s office said that the three leaders discussed “regional issues” and Egypt’s efforts to fight Islamic militants.
Egypt is facing further recent scrutiny and criticism ahead of an upcoming United Nations report about its role in assisting North Korea in its acquisition and development of nuclear weapons. The report is focused on a UN investigation into a North Korean vessel that was found off the coast of Egypt with 30,000 rocket-propelled grenades in 2016, according to the New York Times. The discovery and investigation occurred shortly before the United States’ decision to reduce its funding to Egypt.
Egypt’s presidential campaign is currently underway, with campaigning set to end on March 23 and voting set for March 26 to 28. The incumbent, el-Sisi, is widely expected to win, in a country that suppresses anti-government protest and sentiment. His only challenger, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, is a supporter of the incumbent president himself. Although a billboard campaign for el-Sisi’s re-election has been launched, the president himself has not publicly campaigned, according to the Washington Post.
According to Human Rights Watch, this has eliminated the potential for a free or fair election in the country. In a Feb. 13 report, HRW highlights the problems outlined in a report from more than a dozen regional and international rights groups, namely the repression of anti-government sentiment, and el-Sisi’s apparently inevitable re-election, despite his widespread criticism and human rights abuses.
“Egypt’s allies should speak out publicly now to denounce these farcical elections, rather than continue with largely unquestioning support for a government presiding over the country’s worst human rights crisis in decades,” a statement from the 14 rights groups said, according to HRW.
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