07/15/2021 Cairo (International Christian Concern) – When US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in late May to discuss Egypt’s role in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, their discussion seemed promising for the future of US-Egypt relations and human rights in the country. While Blinken praised el-Sisi for his skillful mediation of the ceasefire in Gaza, the two also engaged in what was reported to be a fruitful discussion on the protection of human rights in Egypt. According to the State Department’s report on the meeting, el-Sisi responded favorably to Blinken’s insistence that Egypt adheres to the United States’ standards for international human rights, and the two “engaged in a constructive dialogue”.
However, in the six weeks following Blinken and el-Sisi’s conference, the hope that their meeting would lead to relief for persecuted Egyptians has faded. For years, Egypt has taken advantage of its unique ability to influence and negotiate with Hamas to manipulate the United States into turning a blind eye to its own extensive human rights abuses. During his campaign, President Biden emphasized that he would not allow Egypt’s strategic importance in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to take precedence over human rights. Secretary of State Blinken followed through with this policy in his meeting with el-Sisi, refusing to bow to the Egyptian president’s attempts to leverage its strategic diplomatic position to turn the conversation away from human rights abuses. Though human rights was certainly a topic of discussion during the meeting, President el-Sisi’s office released a follow-up statement on the conference that neglected to mention it at all.
Human rights abuses in Egypt are extensive and have drawn the ire of the Biden administration and the international community. Attacks on Coptic Christians by sectarian mobs plague rural areas of Egypt, while the Egyptian government is incrementally increasing its crackdown on the religious freedom of Christians in the country. Egypt’s blasphemy law is one of the world’s most restrictive, and its implementation has resulted in some of the highest rates of blasphemy-related imprisonment and prosecutions in the world. Many of these arrests have been related to government monitoring of social media, bringing about grave concerns regarding privacy rights in Egypt.
The Egyptian government has further exemplified its lack of commitment to universally protecting human rights with the frequent detainment of religious activists. In November of 2020, three Egyptian activists were unjustly detained and stripped of their personal assets after speaking with an international envoy about human rights violations in the country, according to USCIRF. An even more pressing example is that of Coptic Christian activist Ramy Kamel, who has been held in prison without trial since being accused of spreading false information on social media and joining a terrorist group.
Initially following Blinken and el-Sisi’s meeting, it seemed imminent that Egypt would release several American detainees as a gesture of peace towards the United States. Unfortunately, no such releases have taken place, further speaking to Egypt’s troubling lack of cooperation and adherence to the United States’ foreign policy goals. The Biden administration would do well to follow through on its campaign promises and more intently combat human rights abuses in Egypt.
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