RFK Human Rights Co-Sponsors Briefing on Civil Society Crackdown in Egypt

On June 22, 2016, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) co-hosted a briefing titled, “Egypt’s Renewed Crackdown: The Struggle for Human Rights and Civil Society,” in the Dirksen Senate Office Building.

The discussion featured TIMEP Executive Director Dr. Nancy Okail, Visiting Scholar at Stanford University Dr. Amr Hamzawy, and Washington Director at Human Rights Watch Ms. Sarah Margon; the panel was moderated by Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Managing Attorney Wade McMullen.

“We are witnessing unprecedented levels of oppression in Egypt,” said Mr. McMullen as he opened the discussion by explaining that over the last few months, the Egyptian government’s crackdown on civil society and human rights has intensified, evidenced by the recent prison sentences handed down to peaceful protesters, the storming of the Egyptian Press Syndicate, and the reopening of the 2012-2013 NGO trial.

Describing the extent of human rights violations in recent months and pointing to overcrowded prisons and police stations, expansive arrest raids, constraints on journalists, and the revival of old cases against prominent human rights defenders, Ms. Margon concluded “it’s flat wrong” that Egypt is moving towards a path to democracy. Explaining the ramifications of the crackdown, Dr. Hamzawy stated that the government’s repressive policies are not making Egypt more safe, but rather, contributing to instability through the re-institutionalization of the authoritarian toolkit, the cancelling of the formal political arena, and the bludgeoning of civil society through a systematic campaign. Pointing to an inverse relationship between Egypt’s record-breaking arms spending and deteriorating security situation, Dr. Okail challenged the status quo understanding that supporting the Sisi government and viewing the country through an exclusive security approach would be sustainable and effective.

Ultimately, the panel discussants concluded that there is a middle ground for U.S. policy towards Egypt, particularly on the subject of aid and its ties to ongoing human rights violations. “It shouldn’t be the complete halting of aid, but not a blank check either,” said Dr. Okail. Ms. Margon additionally emphasized the importance of keeping the existing appropriations language which allows for the withholding of a percentage of Foreign Military Financing (FMF) based on human rights conditions. Consistent and principled statements condemning human rights violations by Administration officials including Secretary of State John Kerry, high-level public action by U.S. Embassy officials including prison visits, people-to-people exchange programs, and significantly more support for domestic civil society organizations were also proposed as elements of a more holistic approach to U.S. foreign policy on Egypt.