A crazy place anyway it's looked at.
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to urge you to speak directly with Egyptian President
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and to express both publicly and privately your
objection to his accelerating crackdown on human rights, including
recent moves to prosecute civil society organizations. You were correct
to declare in September 2014 that “America’s support for civil society
is a matter of national security,” and nowhere is that more true than in
President al-Sisi’s campaign against civil society takes place
against the backdrop of unprecedented abuses by Egyptian security
forces, including extrajudicial killings, the detention of tens of
thousands of political prisoners, the widespread documented use of
torture, and the forced disappearances of hundreds of Egyptians. The
killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose tortured body appeared
on a roadside near Cairo a week after his abduction in late January, has
come to international attention, but many Egyptians have shared his
fate since President al-Sisi came to power.
On March 24, an Egyptian court will hear a request to freeze the bank
accounts and other assets of two internationally-respected human rights
defenders, Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, along with members of Eid’s
family. Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Eid and other activists may soon be indicted
and face trial for illegally accepting foreign funding – a criminal
charge that violates their right to free association and could carry a
sentence of up to 25 years in prison.
The imminent proceedings are a major step in Egyptian authorities’
campaign to crush the last remnants of Egypt’s independent civil society
and human rights community. Egypt’s media has recently reported that
dozens of organizations are under criminal investigation, essentially
for their peaceful work to monitor abuses and to hold Egypt’s government
accountable to its own constitution and international human rights
commitments. In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have ordered the
closure of a prominent anti-torture organization, the Nadeem Center;
summoned staff from several human rights organizations for
interrogation; banned prominent rights activists and advocates from
traveling outside Egypt in violation of the Egyptian constitution; and
harassed and threatened human rights activists with arrest and violence.
The media regularly propagate vitriol against human rights defenders,
portraying them as traitors and security threats.
If this crackdown is allowed to reach its conclusion, it will silence
an indigenous human rights community that has survived more than 30
years of authoritarian rule, leaving few if any Egyptians free to
investigate mounting abuses by the state.
The current attacks on Egypt’s rights advocates are a continuation of
the same criminal prosecution of American and German NGO workers in
Egypt that began in 2011. That prosecution, driven by senior members of
the Egyptian government still in high office today, resulted in the June
2013 criminal convictions, in a deeply flawed trial, of 43 Egyptian and
international NGO staff, including 17 American citizens. President
al-Sisi, who was the head of military intelligence in 2011 when Egypt’s
military government launched the investigation, has refused repeated
requests to overturn the convictions.
While the current crackdown is primarily targeting domestic
organizations, there are indications that international NGOs may also
face increased pressure, including some that currently do not even have
offices or staff working in Egypt. On March 20, the newspaper Al Masry
Al Youm published the names of more than 150 individuals and civil
society organizations reportedly under investigation for receiving
foreign funding, including prominent American and European organizations
such as the Center for International Private Enterprise, the Solidarity
Center, Transparency International, Save the Children, Catholic Relief
Services, CARE, AMIDEAST, the National Democratic Institute, and the
International Republican Institute.
Mr. President, in your September 2014 Presidential Memorandum on
Civil Society, you pledged that the United States government – including
you personally – would stand firmly with those in civil society facing
pressure or harassment from their governments. While the past five years
have been tumultuous and challenging for US policy toward Egypt, this
is another defining moment for the United States, a moment that tests
your pledge to “stand with civil society.” Secretary Kerry’s March 18
statement of concern was welcome, but further action is urgently needed.
Past practice demonstrates that when the United States government
speaks clearly, in one voice, and consistently on NGO freedom and human
rights in Egypt, the government in Cairo listens.
It is essential that you act to stand up for human rights, freedom of
association, and the rights of both Egyptian and international civil
society organizations to work together on behalf of common goals. You
must make crystal clear to President al-Sisi that continued assaults on
civil society, including harassment of US organizations, will make it
difficult for the administration to cooperate across a range of issues,
including your administration’s efforts to promote American investment
in Egypt and to provide financial assistance to the Egyptian government
and military. If Egypt’s government continues down a path to destroy its
own civil society, American support and assistance will become, in both
principled and practical terms, impossible.
The Working Group on Egypt