Open letter to President-elect Biden and Vice- President-elect Harris

The undersigned Egyptian civil society organizations extend our congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris on your victory in the 2020 United States presidential election. We also extend our congratulations to the American people for the electoral process that enabled the largest number of American voters ever to exercise their right to freely choose their representatives and leaders.

With great concern, we have observed the unconditional support given to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by the administration of President Donald Trump. Referring to President Sisi as “my favorite dictator,” President Trump and his administration have condoned the Egyptian government’s persistent and grave violations of human rights. The tragedy for Egyptians is that President Sisi has taken these patronizing and demeaning words as a compliment, and has spent the last four years living up to his reputation as a dictator.

As you prepare to assume office in January 2021, we urge you to begin implementing your commitment to the United States’ role as a bulwark for democracy and liberalism against fascism and autocracy, by upholding your pledge that there will be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator’.”

Egypt is a close partner of the United States. From this day forward, we advise you to make clear to President Sisi and his government that the United States values partnerships with governments that respect the rights and freedoms of their own people.

When you assume office, within the framework of forging a strong cooperative relationship with Egypt and its people, we advise you to set specific benchmarks for a drastic improvement in the Sisi government’s human rights practices according to Egypt’s international obligations, and according to the fundamental standards and principles to which you will expect a partner adheres.

The Egyptian government should release the tens of thousands of prisoners held after grossly unfair trials, or without adequate procedural safeguards. Many of these prisoners were detained because of their political opinions and for their peaceful criticism of the policies of the Sisi government, in violation of their rights protected in the Egyptian Constitution and international law. The context of the Covid-19 pandemic renders the release of these prisoners even more urgent, so that incarceration in overcrowded, insanitary conditions does not turn into a death sentence.

The Egyptian government should end its sustained crackdown on independent civil society organizations, including human rights organizations. It should revise restrictive laws that make it impossible for organizations to operate free from government interference; it should end criminal prosecutions and investigations directed against human rights defenders in reprisal for their legitimate human rights activities, including by dismissing, in its entirety, Case 173 of 2011; it should lift all travel bans imposed on human rights defenders, and lift asset seizures imposed on defenders and human rights organizations.

  • The Egyptian government should end institutional discrimination against religious minorities, especially the large Coptic Christian minority. Discriminatory laws governing the construction of churches and religious buildings should be ended; impunity for incidents of sectarian violence against Copts should be ended; activists jailed for their advocacy for the rights of Copts should be released.
  • The Egyptian government should stop using the pretext of combating terrorism to justify and legitimize grave violations of human rights including disappearances, extrajudicial killing and widespread torture. It must enable local and international journalists to conduct their journalistic work freely and publish freely on its counter-terrorism operations in parts of the country, like Sinai, that have become information black holes. The civilian population of the Sinai region has been victimized by severe repression and escalating violence as President Sisi’s war on terrorism grinds on.
  • The Egyptian government should end its restrictions on media freedoms that have resulted in the closure of independent news outlets, the jailing and prosecution of journalists, and the banning of websites.

As advocates for human rights and democracy in a country where these values have been under acute attack for years, we are greatly encouraged by your election and the “free expression of the will of the electors” that it represents. We aspire for these democratic values in our country and we hope that you will help us realize them.

Sincerely,

  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  • Committee for Justice
  • Egyptian Front for Human Rights
  • Egyptian Human Rights Forum
  • The Freedom Initiative
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