Senators Urge Secretary Kerry to Focus on Political Reform, Human Rights during U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Bob Casey (D-PA) wrote Secretary of State John Kerry today ahead of the upcoming U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, urging that “political reform, human rights, and fundamental freedoms” are made a central element of the agenda.
In the letter, the Senators write that while “The United States and Egypt have shared a strategic partnership for more than four decades … we are troubled by recent developments in Egypt that suggest the country is not on a path to long-term sustainable security or political inclusion. We are also concerned that recent U.S. policy and assistance decisions have been interpreted by the Egyptian government as endorsement of the current political climate.”
The letter appears below.
Dear Secretary Kerry,
As you prepare to lead the U.S. delegation during the upcoming August 2 U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, we strongly urge you to make political reform, human rights, and fundamental freedoms a central element of the agenda. The United States and Egypt have shared a strategic partnership for more than four decades, and we hope that together our two countries, governments, and peoples will continue to work together and benefit from shared interests and objectives. However, we are troubled by recent developments in Egypt that suggest the country is not on a path to long-term sustainable security or political inclusion. We are also concerned that recent U.S. policy and assistance decisions have been interpreted by the Egyptian government as endorsement of the current political climate.
Over the past several months the U.S. Government has made a series of decisions with respect to the relationship with Egypt including: lifting the executive holds in place since October 2013 on U.S. military equipment deliveries, sending a national security waiver to Congress in order to provide $1.5 billion in U.S. assistance, and notifying Congress of intent to obligate security and economic assistance funds to Egypt for fiscal year 2015. In addition, the U.S. Government is supporting Egypt through economic assistance, the Higher Education Initiative, and your attendance at the January 2015 Egypt Development Conference and advocacy on behalf of Egypt with international donors and institutions. These forms of support are critical and intended to signal U.S. support for Egypt’s security and economic recovery, but U.S. engagement in these areas must be coupled with an Egyptian commitment to implementing a reform agenda that takes into account human rights, fundamental freedoms, and the need for an active civil society.
A key element of U.S. foreign policy has always been and must continue to be support for human rights, political reform, and civil society. In the U.S.-Egypt relationship, we are concerned that these core principles seem to be no longer a priority. Policies pursued by the Egyptian authorities are fueling instability. These policies include the detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners – including American citizens – without due process of law, restrictions on basic freedoms of assembly and mounting official pressure against the legitimate activities of independent human rights organizations. Security services continue to crackdown on protests with excessive force while the Egyptian judiciary has handed down mass death sentences, often in absentia and without regard for fair trial standards.
The United States will remain committed to a security partnership with Egypt that addresses shared challenges and reflects twenty-first century threats. The Egyptian government should be commended for its adherence to the Peace Treaty with Israel, its role in brokering ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, its provision of military privileges to the United States, and its participation in peacekeeping missions and support for the anti-ISIL Coalition. In the Sinai, the Egyptian government has worked to secure the border with Israel and Gaza, though it continues to face serious terrorist threats. Egypt must also contend with ongoing instability on its border with Libya, which has allowed terrorists to smuggle weapons into Egypt and provided a haven for another ISIL affiliate that in February murdered 21 Egyptian Copts. Accordingly, we welcome the Administration’s recent decision to channel U.S. security assistance into four categories – counterterrorism, border security, Sinai security, and maritime security.
The United States should also continue to support Egypt as it seeks sustainable and inclusive economic growth. President Sisi deserves praise for his commitment to economic reforms, including difficult cuts to fuel subsidies and efforts to improve the business climate, which are vital to Egypt’s long-term economic health. This commitment has begun to bear fruit in the form of improved economic forecasts, a stabilized sovereign debt rating and increased foreign direct investment. However, it is crucial that the Egyptian government also plan and implement a long-term human development plan for Egypt’s large population that improves essential services like health and education, develops opportunities for private sector growth and entrepreneurship, and supports small and medium-sized enterprises which provide the bulk of Egyptian jobs. U.S. technical and financial assistance to Egypt already plays a role in these areas and should support Egypt in developing and implementing such a plan.
As we saw during the Arab Spring uprisings, choking off all peaceful and legitimate avenues for dissent coupled with unaccountable institutions fuels violent extremism and increases the likelihood of long-term instability. As President Obama emphasized at the Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) Summit in February, “when people are oppressed, and human rights are denied…when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.”
We firmly believe that there can be no sustainable security or economic growth in Egypt without a serious reform effort. As you prepare for the U.S.-Egypt Strategic Dialogue, we insist that discussion of human rights, political reform, and civil society freedoms are a central element of the agenda.
Senator Ben Cardin
Senator John McCain
Senator Tim Kaine
Senator Marco Rubio
Senator Chris Coons
Senator Mark Kirk
Senator Bob Casey