Egyptian parliament hopes to counter US Congress criticism on human rights

Egypt’s parliament is ramping up efforts to deal with the US Congress’ criticism of the human rights situation in Egypt, as it passed a motion to send delegations to the United States.

al-monitor Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (2nd L) walks alongside US Representative Devin Nunes (2nd R), Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, following a meeting at the US Capitol in Washington, April 4, 2017. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.

Topics covered

us congress, egypt-us relations, sameh shoukry, joe biden, human rights

Feb 17, 2021

CAIRO — The Egyptian parliament is scrambling to respond and deal with criticism by the US Congress regarding human rights violations in Egypt.

The parliamentary Human Rights Committee announced Feb. 6 the launching of a series of initiatives and campaigns, including organizing trips to the US Congress and inviting congressmen to visit the Egyptian parliament. Tarek Radwan, head of the parliamentary committee, told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, “The committee decided to initiate face-to-face dialogue with members of Congress in order to familiarize them with the challenges facing Egypt in the human rights field, especially with regard to terrorism.”

He continued, “The aim of the initiative is to remind and warn members of Congress against dealing with political Islamists in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, which would harm the national security of the United States, and affect the stability and security in Arab countries and in Egypt in particular, which classified the group as a terrorist organization."

On Jan. 25, two members of the US Congress — Don Beyer and Tom Malinowski — announced the formation of the “Egypt Human Rights Caucus.” Both members, who previously served in the US State Department, said they would mobilize support on a bipartisan basis, from the Democratic and Republican parties, in a bid to pressure the Egyptian government regarding its human rights record.

In response to the announcement of the formation of this caucus, the Human Rights Committee said in a Feb. 6 statement that the two US representatives were trying to form a group to interfere in Egypt’s domestic affairs, in clear violation of the United Nations Charter.

The statement added, “The caucus’ aim is to enable the violent Islamic group [Muslim Brotherhood] in Egypt to replay the same old deceptive game to fool the public opinion and the American decision-makers by presenting itself as a group of political or civil society workers in a bid to promote their Islamic jihadist agenda.”

On Jan. 26, Egypt’s parliament discussed ways to deal with Congress' criticism regarding the human rights situation in the country, in the presence of Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry, who assured members of parliament that “Egypt does not accept interference in its domestic affairs, as it is a sovereign state.”

He continued, “Cairo will respond to any attempt to interfere in its domestic affairs."

The visits that parliament said would be organized to the United States are not new, as an Egyptian parliament delegation had visited the US Congress in June 2017. Back then, the delegation met with several Democratic and Republican representatives, who were called on to review their positions vis-a-vis human rights in Egypt.

The Egyptian parliament had already received several US representatives, including Sen. Edward Espenett Case, a member of the Congress Appropriations Committee, in May 2019.

In January 2020, a delegation from the US Congress visited the northern Sinai Peninsula and inspected the security conditions in the governorate, which was witnessing battles between the Egyptian army and jihadist groups. The delegation also visited some economic development projects that were being implemented in el-Arish, as well as the water desalination plant under construction in the city.

Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University, told Al-Monitor,  “The visits of the Egyptian parliament’s delegations to the US Congress would be of paramount importance especially with the new US President Joe Biden, who attaches great importance to human rights and democracy in Egypt.”

He said, “In order for these visits to be successful, a list of all US representatives — with their different positions on Egypt — ought to be made. These visits should not only target those who did not criticize Cairo, but ought to address concerns of the members of Congress who criticized the situation in the country."

Fahmy noted that the delegations should not be limited to Egyptian members of parliament, but also public figures who have influence and knowledge of the American society and the composition of Congress.

“The way the US Congress handles the issue of human rights under Biden is totally different from what it was under former US President Donald Trump. Congress is now requesting Egypt to take steps on the ground regarding the situation of human rights in the country. The US Congress delegations that will be visiting Cairo in the coming period will be monitoring the situation and would have a specific list of demands to this effect. The Egyptian parliament must be ready to deal with these delegations,” Fahmy added.

Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told Al-Monitor, “Any visit to the United States will be futile if the human rights situation is not amended on the ground. These visits aim to polish the image of the Egyptian regime before Congress, although the parliamentary Human Rights Committee’s job is to criticize the practices of the regime when it comes to [violations] of human rights and not to try and improve its image.”

He noted, “Parliament has always accused the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition of standing behind the criticism by some congressmen of the human rights situation in Egypt. But in reality, the violations of these rights and the ill-treatment of political prisoners are obvious to all."

Eid concluded, “The ruling regime must stop the arrest campaigns, release prisoners and create space for democracy and pluralism. With this, Cairo will not need to organize visits to the US Congress to try and polish its image in this regard. Congress under Biden will deal firmly with the human rights issues, and the Egyptian regime is well aware of that. This is why the Egyptian parliament is scrambling to communicate with US representatives and trying to deny the reality on the ground to ease criticism.”

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