Intel: Working Group on Egypt urges Pompeo to get tough on Sisi

al-monitor A picture taken during a guided tour organized by Egypt's State Information Service on Feb. 11, 2020, shows an Egyptian police officer near watch towers at Tora prison in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Photo by KHALED DESOUKI/AFP via Getty Images.

Jul 1, 2020

As Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi widens his crackdown on government critics, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts including former officials urged US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to call out America's longtime ally for human rights abuses. 

“The United States should make clear it is watching,” the Working Group on Egypt wrote in a letter addressed to Pompeo Tuesday. “As one of Egypt’s most important international partners, the United States has a responsibility to use its influence with Sisi to halt these egregious abuses of internationally recognized human rights.”

The report noted the January death of dual citizen Mostafa Kassem in Egyptian custody, as well as the ongoing detention of Americans including Mohammed Amashah and Khaled Hassan.  

American citizen Mohamed Soltan, an activist who spent nearly two years in a Cairo prison, recently filed a lawsuit in a US court against Egypt's former prime minister and other officials he blames for his detention and near death during it. In apparent retaliation, five of Soltan’s cousins were arrested last month in Egypt on trumped-up terrorism charges and his father has disappeared from his prison cell. 

The actions “represent blatant interference in the US justice system and an affront to his legal rights as an American citizen,” the group wrote. 

Why it matters:  Since taking power in a 2013 coup, Sisi has faced mounting criticism over detaining thousands of political opponents, including peaceful demonstrators and journalists. In September, security forces rounded up some 4,000 protesters in the most sweeping mass arrest since Sisi took office. 

In recent months, Egypt has arrested or forcibly disappeared a number of voices critical of the government’s handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic, including prominent political activist Sanaa Seif. Former Washington Post journalist Noura Younis faces charges related to her work as editor-in-chief of independent news website Al-Manassa. 

What’s next:  Rights groups have accused President Donald Trump, who has referred to Sisi as a “great leader,” of turning a blind eye to human rights violations in the country. After Kassem, an Egyptian-born auto parts dealer from New York, died following a hunger strike in an Egyptian prison, a number of lawmakers called on Trump to sanction and impose visa restrictions on the Egyptian officials involved. 

The Working Group on Egypt urged Pompeo to hold firm to human rights conditions on $300 million in military funds to Egypt, which are set to expire at the end of September. Last year, the State Department chose to not withhold the sum, describing Egypt as critical to US national security interests. 

Know more:  Learn more about Soltan’s lawsuit against former Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi and other officials he says were involved in his 22-month imprisonment. 

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