June 30, 2020
The Honorable Michael R. Pompeo
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Secretary Pompeo,
We write to ask you to press Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to cease his escalating crackdown on peaceful opponents, including journalists, activists, and members of American citizens’ families residing in Egypt. Sisi may believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted the international community’s attention. The United States should make clear it is watching. 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.
We would like to draw your attention to the following recent alarming actions taken by the Egyptian regime:
- Reprisals against Egyptian family members of American citizen Mohamed Soltan. In the last two weeks, security forces have detained five of Soltan’s Egyptian cousins. The arrests are an apparent reprisal for a lawsuit Soltan filed in a U.S. court against a former Egyptian prime minister responsible for Soltan’s torture while unjustly imprisoned in Egypt from 2013 to 2015. Soltan’s father also has been disappeared from his prison cell; his whereabouts are unknown. Soltan says sources in Egypt told him these actions aimed to force him to drop his lawsuit. They represent blatant interference in the U.S. justice system and an affront to his legal rights as an American citizen.
- Arrest of Sanaa Seif. On June 23, the Egyptian police arrested Sanaa Seif, a political activist and the sister of prominent imprisoned activist Alaa Abdel Fattah. She had tried to file a complaint against a group of female thugs who attacked her and her family (almost certainly at the behest of the government) outside the facility where Alaa is being held. Sanaa is now facing outlandish charges related to social media posts warning about the spread of COVID-19 in crowded prisons.
- Arrest of Noura Younis. On June 24, the security services arrested Noura Younis, editor-in-chief of independent news website Al-Manassa and a former Washington Post journalist. Noura is currently free on bail but is expected to be tried on the charges filed against her, the most serious of which—using a website to commit crimes—appears to be related to Al-Manassa’s coverage of the assault on Sanaa Seif and her family. Noura’s arrest comes just one month after the unjust detention of Lina Attallah, the editor of another independent news site, Mada Masr.
- Continued political detention of American citizens. Following the January death in custody of unjustly imprisoned American citizen Mostafa Kassem, other American citizens, including Mohammed Amashah and Khaled Hassan, remain wrongfully detained in Egypt. The physical risk to these U.S. nationals has only increased since the start of the pandemic, as reports emerge of coronavirus outbreaks in Egyptian prisons.
With these recent harassing, abusive, and intimidating actions, the Egyptian authorities are deepening what was already the country’s worst human rights crisis in decades.
Egypt’s brutal and extrajudicial measures against peaceful dissidents closely resemble tactics that have drawn your strong rebuke when used by the Iranian regime. The Egyptian government’s efforts to silence any deviation from the official narrative on COVID-19 mirror China’s ruthless suppression of information on the pandemic. Yet, while the Trump administration has correctly criticized Iran and China for this reprehensible behavior, it has continued to accord Egypt the benefits of a valued partner: acceding to Sisi’s request for mediation of Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over Nile River waters, embracing the “Cairo Initiative” regarding conflict in Libya, and supporting new International Monetary Fund loans for Egypt worth nearly $8 billion.
We urge you to press President Sisi to take the following steps: end all harassment of Soltan’s relatives in Egypt; release all journalists and activists detained for exercising basic human rights and drop all charges against them; and release all American prisoners and allow them to return home.
Until the Egyptian regime takes such steps, we respectfully suggest the following actions to show that there are serious consequences for abusing the rights of Americans and Egyptians alike:
- Speak out publicly against the Egyptian government’s latest crackdown. The public voice of the Secretary of State carries significant weight and is less likely to be ignored than private pressure alone.
- Make clear privately that the Trump administration will be forced to re-evaluate its cooperation unless the Egyptian government takes the steps described above.
- Refuse to waive congressionally mandated human rights restrictions on $300 million in Fiscal Year 2019 Foreign Military Financing (FMF) funds for Egypt set to expire at the end of September.
As the Trump administration tries to hold Iran and China to account for their reckless and dangerous abuses of human rights, we hope that you will hold Egypt to the same standards. Continued mass violations of human rights increase the prospect of instability in Egypt and threaten U.S. national security interests.
The Working Group on Egypt*
Robert Kagan (co-chair)
Michele Dunne (co-chair)
*The Working Group on Egypt is a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts formed in 2010 to seek more constructive U.S. policies towards Egypt.