The US Congress should put pressure on Sisi’s sponsors in the Gulf to help improve democracy in Egypt.
Egypt is run by a dictator. The socioeconomic situation of the people is at a low. This has triggered rising discontent among Egyptians and has compelled members of the diaspora in the US to urge Washington to act.
Egyptian-Americans are demanding justice for the people through intervention of the US Congress. They want Congress to put pressure on Egypt and are asking for an end to violations of liberty and human rights as a result of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s rule. However, whether these voices have an impact or go unheard, only time will tell. It remains to be seen whether Congress will take a supportive stance for those opposed to the Sisi government, given America’s close ties with the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — sponsors of the Egyptian government.
Up in arms against injustice
Egyptians have fought against the human rights abuse inflicted by the Sisi government ever since it assumed power through a military coup in 2013. Not only did the coup d’état topple the democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi, but it also led to the Rabaa Square massacre, which resulted in the killing of at least 800 people, as per Human Rights Watch. According to the 2017-2018 report by Amnesty International, Sisi’s government used torture and other methods of ill treatment soon after coming to power, which led to the disappearance of hundreds of people. The report further reveals that “mass unfair trials” of peaceful protesters, human rights activists and journalists have become “routine” in Egypt.
Besides Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that the government imprisoned at least 20 journalists by the end of 2017, becoming one of the world’s top three incarcerators of media professionals.
To highlight the worsening situation, several human rights groups and activists in the US came together on March 12 for an event called Egypt Advocacy Day. The two-day gathering saw around 60 delegates from 30 different states travel to the US capital. It was co-organized by Mohamed Soltan, founder of the Freedom Initiative, a US-based nonprofit. Besides Soltan, another prominent person associated with events in the US against Sisi’s tyranny was Aya Hijazi, founder of a street children welfare group called the Belady Foundation, which was a co-organizer of the day. Under Sisi’s rule, Hijazi, a dual American-Egyptian citizen, was jailed in Egypt for more than three years on fabricated charges of human trafficking.
After her release from prison, Hijazi returned to the US in April 2017 and met US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Trump said he felt honored to play a role in working “behind the scenes” to ensure her release. Emboldened and determined to help bring about change, Hijazi is hopeful of working with the US government for the release of others like her who are trapped helplessly in the shadowy prisons of Egypt.
Crushing the Voice for Human Rights
Fighting the Sisi government is hard, considering the restrictions that curb even the most basic human rights. The deterioration of human rights is reflected in various reported incidents. One recent example was the arrest of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik by Emirati officials at his residence in the United Arab Emirates, followed by his deportation to Egypt. Shafik was due to stand against Sisi in the 2018 presidential election, which is currently being held between March 26 and 28. He has since withdrawn his candidacy.
The arrest of Shafik illustrates Sisi’s growing insecurity. He is unwilling to conform to the conventional, righteous methods of running in free and fair elections and is resorting to unscrupulous means to subdue his opponents.
Unfortunately, the chain of events suggests that the history of Egypt is about to repeat itself. The only difference is that the 2014 election was an experiment, and a low voter turnout even on the second day of the election worried Sisi, compelling him to extend the election duration to three days. An apparent rise in the number of voters to a surprising 47% was seen after that.
As a precautionary measure, the 2018 election is set to last for three days. However, considering the absence of a credible candidate to vote for instead of Sisi, the current human rights situation in Egypt seems irresolvable, as voters are expected to turn out heavily in favor of the president — whether by choice or intimidation. In both situations, Egypt’s hope for freedom from a dictatorial regime appears to be sinking rapidly.
Egypt is a Gulf puppet
The political scenario in Egypt is nothing but a puppet show. The UAE and Saudi Arabia seem to be controlling the strings, sponsoring Sisi’s public relations management. Therefore, it seems that the chances of Congress putting pressure on Egypt to end human rights abuse are low.
According to an article published by The Intercept, the UAE spent around $2.7 million lobbying the “US government and the ‘echo chamber’ of Washington think tanks along with news media” to influence American policy in Sisi’s favor. According to the report, Glover Park Group, a top public relations and lobbying firm in Washington established by former Clinton White House and Democratic Party officials, was charged with the job of “improving” Sisi’s image in 2013.
In addition, Sisi’s Gulf allies have also used the political and personal affiliations of the UAE’s ambassador to the US, Yousef al-Otaiba, to further their cause. Otaiba reportedly acted as a de facto second ambassador to Egypt and lobbied US senators for President Sisi by using personal connections with influential personalities like Bret Baier, the national security correspondent for Fox News and a family friend of his. Needless to say, Sisi chose to be interviewed by Baier.
With funds flowing for Sisi’s lobbying of the US government, it seems difficult for nonprofit organizations and the Egyptian-American diaspora to earn the support of congressmen who have been working toward breaking down Egypt’s dictatorial power since 2013. In that year, members of Congress were split over whether the US should discontinue military aid to the country, considering the coup and the widespread violence on the streets of Egypt, one of its crucial allies in the Middle East. Most Democrats supported Barack Obama’s approach of freezing but not ending military aid, except one Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison, who said he “would end aid to Egypt.”
In August 2017, the Trump administration discontinued aid to Egypt worth $96 million and suspended $195 million in military funding because of its poor democratic record, lack of improvement in human rights, and the introduction of new laws “limiting the activities of nongovernmental organizations” in the country.
What’s worse is that besides the violation of human rights, Egypt’s Coptic Christians have also complained of not being granted religious freedom. In December 2017, a bill dubbed H.Res.673 was introduced in the US House of Representatives, calling on the government of Egypt to pass reforms that ensured its Coptic Christians held the “same rights and opportunities as other Egyptian citizens,” and it demanded an end to “the culture of impunity for attacks on Christians.” The bill, which was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, represented the status of the Coptic minority in Egypt and observed that “approximately 15 percent of Copts had emigrated from Egypt over the past few decades to escape discrimination.”
Considering that Egyptians have no voting options left besides Sisi, their future appears dark. The last-minute entry of Mousa Mostafa Mousa bears little promise, considering the punishments inflicted upon those who dared to join the presidential race against Sisi. US congressmen, along with their Senate colleagues and lawmakers, have fought long and hard against providing any aid to the Sisi government.
Frustratingly, it is Trump’s ambiguous relationship with Sisi that is particularly worrisome. It provides little hope for democracy in Egypt.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.