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The Honorable Antony Blinken
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20520

January 22, 2022

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We are a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts formed in 2010 to advocate for principled and effective U.S. policies toward Egypt. We are writing with respect to $130 million in Fiscal Year 2020 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Egypt that the Biden administration withheld in mid-September 2021. The administration withheld these funds pending the Egyptian government’s satisfaction of human rights conditions far more modest than those stipulated in congressional appropriations legislation. We recommend that these funds not be released unless Egypt fully meets the conditions by the administration’s deadline (which we understand to be January 30). We encourage you to make clear to the Egyptian government that if it does not fully meet these conditions, the United States will have no choice but to reprogram this $130 million. 

As reported by the Washington Post, the conditions conveyed to Egypt are: ending the detentions or prosecutions of 16 Egyptians politically targeted by the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and ending the decade-long state harassment of a large number of civil society organizations and individual rights activists in an investigation known as Case 173/2011

In the four months since the administration withheld the $130 million, the Egyptian government has released a very small number of Egyptians who had been unjustly detained on political grounds and who may be among the 16 individuals identified by the administration. It has ended Case 173 investigations of some organizations and individuals. We believe that these minimal actions are the result of U.S. pressure. Yet they are far from sufficient: al-Sisi’s regime has not come close to meeting the administration’s conditions, despite a generous timeline.

At least some of the recently released detainees continue to face trumped-up charges. The government has refused to end the prosecutions of numerous other individuals, some of whom may be among the 16 names, keeping them unjustly detained and even going so far as to convict several prominent activists on ludicrous charges. Furthermore, the government has not fully closed Case 173. Several individuals and organizations remain under investigation and several human rights defenders report that they continue to face travel bans and financial asset freezes. Case 173 continues to be an impediment to the work of human rights defenders. Al-Sisi’s regime could resolve all of these cases immediately. Instead it appears that the regime is playing a game, betting that it does not need to do anything more because the Biden administration simply will backtrack on the conditions and release the FMF.

In addition to the lack of progress in resolving these cases, Egypt’s broader human rights crisis has worsened since mid-September, despite the government’s claims to the contrary. Soon after al-Sisi ended the country’s state of emergency in October to great fanfare, parliament rushed to pass legislation making permanent many of the state’s repressive “emergency” powers. Yet more activists, journalists, and others have been unjustly sentenced to prison, joining the tens of thousands of political prisoners already locked up, with horrifying reports of torture, underground detention, medical neglect, and other abuse. The government is still blocking independent media and NGO websites without legal basis. Intense regime pressure on civil society has not let up, leading one prominent NGO, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, to suspend its work a few weeks ago and raising fears of more closures to come. And, earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice arrested a New York man for acting as an agent of the Egyptian government, including by spying on “U.S.-based political opponents of al-Sisi’s regime.” This disturbing case is indicative of the al-Sisi regime’s pattern of transnational repression, behavior that the Biden administration has promised to counter. 

For all these reasons, we believe that releasing this $130 million in FMF without Egypt having fully met the attached conditions would be a mistake. Such a decision would, in effect, reward authoritarianism. It would reveal that the administration is not serious about following through on its own minimal human rights demands for Egypt, thereby weakening U.S. credibility in future such engagement with this and other countries. 

The Biden administration has pledged to put democracy and human rights “at the center” of U.S. foreign policy. Just weeks after the Summit for Democracy, as the administration kicks off a “year of action” on these issues, dictators and democracy advocates alike are watching to see how strongly the United States will push on human rights when it comes to authoritarian “partners” like Egypt. 

The administration’s conditions for these FMF funds are eminently feasible for the Egyptian government to meet by January 30. We urge the administration to stand firm, for the sake of Egyptians suffering under the regime’s repression and of U.S. credibility as a champion of democratic values everywhere. 

Respectfully,*

​​Amy Hawthorne (chair)
Project on Middle East Democracy

Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations

Nicole Bibbins Sedaca
Freedom House

Thomas Carothers
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Larry Diamond
Stanford University

Michele Dunne
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Eric Edelman
Johns Hopkins University

Reuel Marc Gerecht
Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Neil Hicks
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Thomas Hill
Former staff member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Elisa Massimino
Georgetown University 

Stephen McInerney
Project on Middle East Democracy 

Michael Posner
New York University

Kenneth Wollack
National Endowment for Democracy

Sarah (Holewinski) Yager
Human Rights Watch 

* The Working Group on Egypt is a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts formed in 2010 to advocate for principled and effective U.S. policies toward Egypt. Members participate in the Working Group in their individual capacity; institutional affiliations are provided for the purpose of identification only.


Photo Credit: Ron Przysucha / U.S. Department of State on Flickr