From his perch on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is leading the charge on Capitol Hill this week in urging President Donald Trump get tougher with Egypt on human rights issues.
Human Rights Watch and other groups have hit the Egyptian government in recent weeks for cracking down on protests, blocking websites and prosecuting political opponents.
Rubio joined with U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Mary., in rounding up senators to write a letter to Trump, calling on him to push Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on the matter. Other signers included Republican U.S. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Todd Young of Indiana and Democrats U.S. Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tim Kaine of Virginia, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.
Insisting they were “gravely concerned by the worsening situation for human rights and civil society in Egypt,” the senators pointed to a new law which, they insisted, will lead to “unprecedented repression and will criminalize the work of many NGOs in Egypt, making it virtually impossible for them to operate.”
“We believe it is essential that you make clear to President el-Sisi that repealing this restrictive law and resolving politically-motivated NGO cases are critical to preserving and strengthening the U.S.-Egypt relationship,” the senators wrote. “While the United States and Egypt have shared interests in regional peace and stability, our two countries are regrettably diverging on issues related to human rights, the role of civil society, and universal values. Over the years, the U.S. Congress has provided more than $77 billion in nominal dollars in bilateral foreign assistance to Egypt, including $1.3 billion in annual military aid since 1987.
“However, there are major gaps in the U.S.-Egypt relationship that challenge the longstanding partnership between our two countries,” the senators continued. “Most glaring is the current situation for human rights and civil society in Egypt. Under the leadership of President el-Sisi, the Egyptian government has systematically cracked down on civil society groups and independent media, jailed tens of thousands of political prisoners, and used violence and intimidation against individuals critical of the government.
“A strong U.S.-Egypt relationship is important to advancing American interests in the Middle East, and a key element of that relationship must be the protection and advancement of human rights and other universal values,” they continued. “The United States must engage the Egyptian government on these issues or we risk enabling Egypt to perpetuate the very sorts of conditions that help to breed violent extremism and terrorism.”
Having noted how much aid Egypt has received from the U.S. in recent decades, the senators informed Trump they would “take the Egyptian government’s recent actions into consideration as we review our bilateral assistance to Egypt to ensure that the American people’s tax dollars are used appropriately" and called on the president to pressure the Egyptian government on the matter.
“We strongly urge you to encourage President el-Sisi to support human rights and civil society, and to take the necessary steps to allow NGOs to operate freely and independently and without fear of government interference,” they wrote in conclusion.