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Egyptian opposition groups urge tougher US action against Sisi government

The Egyptian opposition abroad, including the Muslim Brotherhood, has launched a campaign to pressure the Egyptian government to improve human rights conditions, similar to what Washington is doing in Saudi Arabia.
Members of Egypt's banned Muslim Brotherhood are seen inside a glass dock during their trial in the capital Cairo on July 28, 2018

CAIRO — Egyptian opposition figures launched on March 1 a campaign urging the new US administration to pressure the Egyptian government on improving human rights conditions, similar to what Washington has done with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman regarding the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The campaign, led by 40 Egyptian opposition figures, including some affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, calls on the United States to impose sanctions modeled on the “Khashoggi ban.” Washington had announced on Feb. 26 a travel ban against those who prove to be involved in harassing opponents, activists and journalists around the world. Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. A US intelligence report declassified in late February assessed that the Saudi crown prince had approved the operation.

Among the most prominent Muslim Brotherhood leaders taking part in the campaign are Mokhtar al-Ashri, a member of the legal committee of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Brotherhood’s political arm. Ashri is considered the “engineer of the Brotherhood laws,” as he has issued, through his party’s legal committee, legislation that was submitted to parliament under former President Mohammed Morsi.

Also participating in the campaign are Saber Abou al-Fotouh, the former head of the parliament’s Workforce Committee; Fouad Rasheed, a member of the Egyptian Americans for Freedom and Justice (EAFJ), which is linked to the Brotherhood; and Mustafa Hindawi, a former member of the Freedom and Justice Party’s Shura Council.

Walid al-Sharabi, a former judge and spokesperson for the activist group Judges for Egypt, is also participating in the campaign. Sharabi, who is also a member of the National Conscience Front alliance and regional director of Human Rights Watch, was removed from his position as a judge since the Egyptian Judicial Authorities Law bans judges from practicing political work.

Journalist Somaya al-Ganainy, one of the founders of the Journalists against Coup group and a member of the higher committee of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, also took part in the campaign.

According to the campaigners, the Egyptian government committed crimes that are no less serious than the crime of Khashoggi’s killing, including the Rabaa massacre in the wake of the fall of the Brotherhood’s rule, “and the killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni at the hands of the security forces.” 

The international community strongly condemned the Rabaa massacre at the time, after nearly 1,000 were killed when the army raided a square of demonstrators protesting the ousting of Morsi.

Human Rights Watch described the Rabaa events as a massacre and mass killings, and said, “Police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.”  The International Federation for Human Rights called on European countries to strongly condemn the fact that those responsible for the Rabaa massacre were not held accountable.

Following Morsi’s ouster, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood staged a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square and another at al-Nahda Square to demand the return of the president. Security forces forcefully dispersed the sit-in on Aug. 14, 2013, leaving hundreds dead and injured. There are conflicting figures on the casualties, but according to the report of the fact-finding commission formed by the Egyptian presidency, 607 people were killed and 1,495 others were injured. Rights groups place the figure of those killed closer to 1,000.

On Jan. 25, 2016, Regeni, an Italian graduate student who was conducting research in Egypt, was killed in Egypt, sparking widespread international criticism. Most recently, on Jan. 20 of this year, Rome’s Public Prosecutor’s Office formally requested the opening of a trial against four Egyptian police officers implicated in the murder.

As soon as Biden’s victory was announced, the Muslim Brotherhood rushed to issue a statement on Nov. 8, 2020, welcoming Biden’s victory and calling on the elected US administration to reconsider “policies that support dictatorships.”

On Feb. 11, Egyptian opposition forces and figures allied with the Muslim Brotherhood announced for the first time the formation of the so-called Union of Egyptian National Forces to coordinate the efforts of opposition forces and work to bring about change in Egypt and topple the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Habib said these Brotherhood moves are primarily aimed at releasing Brotherhood leaders from prisons and stopping the confiscation of their money. However, he said, the Egyptian government will not easily embark on such a step for fear of the group’s expansion in the country. Moreover, the legitimacy and strength of the current regime are derived from the fight it waged against terrorism and extremism exemplified by the Brotherhood, he added.

On Aug. 28, 2020, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of Mahmoud Ezzat, the Muslim Brotherhood’s acting general guide. The ministry said Ezzat was the main person responsible for managing the organization’s funds, supporting and financing suspicious international organizations and funding operations to harm the country.

On Dec. 7, 2020, the security services launched massive arrest campaigns against a number of top businessmen in the country “for their involvement in supporting and financing the group’s activities in Egypt with the aim of striking the national economy and destabilizing the country,” according to the Public Prosecution investigations.

On Feb. 1, the Egyptian parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee announced that its foreign strategy includes establishing contacts, holding meetings, and organizing visits to the US Congress and US strategic research centers with the aim of clarifying facts to the US public and congress members.

Cairo has seen an increase in pressure from Congress recently. In January of this year, Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) announced the formation of the Egypt Human Rights Caucus, and called on the White House to engage with Congress on plans for “expanded human rights due diligence” before supplying the Egyptian military with further weapons. 

According to Foreign Lobby, on Nov. 11, 2020, Egypt's Ambassador to the United States Motaz Zahran signed in Washington a $65,000-a-month contract with the law firm Brownstein Hayat Farber Schreck to provide “government relations services and strategic advice in matters presented to the US government.”

Asked about the possibility of implementing the “Khashoggi ban” policy in the Egyptian regime, Gamal Mazloum, a military expert and adviser at the Nasser High Military Academy, told Al-Monitor “This matter is completely unlikely, as Washington knows full well the importance of Cairo as far as regional stability and security are concerned, and it dreads any increasing Russian influence, particularly at the military level, in Egypt. This was made evident when Washington expressed its concern over Egypt’s completion of the Russian Su-35 deal,” he said.

On Feb. 23, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed US concerns during a phone call with his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, over the possibility of Cairo purchasing Russian Su-35 fighters.

“Egypt will seek appeasement with the US by improving human rights conditions and releasing political detainees, but it will not accept any flexibility with the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in prisons, as it considers these to pose an existential threat to the state’s identity,” Mazloum concluded.

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