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article imageOp-Ed: Human Rights Watch and others criticize el-Sisi visit to U.S.

By Ken Hanly     Apr 2, 2017 in Politics
Washington - U.S. president Donald Trump will try to rebuild the relationship between the U.S. and Egypt as he meets with Egyptian president Abdel al-Sisi on Monday April 3rd.
An anonymous White House official said that the visit will focus on security issues and military aid: "He wants to use President Sisi's visit to reboot the bilateral relationship and build on the strong connection the two presidents established when they first met in New York last September." Relationships were strained between Obama and el-Sisi as Obama had supported elected president Morsi whom el-Sisi ousted. He was critical of el-Sisi's crackdown on supporters of Morsi. Egypt now considers the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Obama froze some aid for 2 years after Morsi was overthrown in 2013. Over a thousand people died in el-Sisi's subsequent crackdown. However, Egypt now continues to receive about $1.3 billion in aid annually. Human rights groups estimate that at least 40,000 political prisoners have been detained by the el-Sisi government. Egypt is fighting an insurgency in the Sinai. The country is also facing severe economic conditions as it attempts to implement austerity policies demanded by the IMF for a loan and it is trying also to reduce subsidies.
Trump met el-Sisi in New York while Trump was running for president. Trump supports el-SIsi's approach to counter-terrorism and his efforts to "reform" the Egyptian economy according to a White House official. He said that Trump was interested on hearing el-SIsi's views on the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has declared the group a terrorist organization. The former elected Egyptian president Morsi was a member of the Brotherhood which considers itself a moderate Muslim organization. The White House official said: "We, along with a number of countries, have some concerns about various activities that the Muslim Brotherhood has conducted in the region."
The Trump administration has proposed large cuts to foreign aid but it remains to be seen whether this will result in any cuts to Egyptian aid. The Trump administration has dropped any human rights demands in connection with its sale of jets to Bahrain. Trump is unlikely to demand any human rights reforms from Egypt as a condition for providing aid. An official said that the human rights issues would be discussed behind closed doors: "Our approach is to handle these types of sensitive issues in a private, more discreet way. We believe it's the most effective way to advance those issues to a favorable outcome." The official would not say whether the case of Aya Hijazi an Egyptian-American arrested in 2014 on human trafficking charges would be discussed. Human rights groups have called for his release.
Trump's meeting with el-Sisi is the first meeting of an Egyptian head of state with the U.S. president since 2009. The meeting comes at a time when human rights in Egypt are at a nadir according to Human Rights Watch. Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch said: “Inviting al-Sisi for an official visit to Washington as tens of thousands of Egyptians rot in jail and when torture is again the order of the day is a strange way to build a stable strategic relationship.” After his meeting with el-Sisi last September, Trump said that he would give “strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump Administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.” While since 2012 U.S. military aid has been conditional upon various steps to improving human rights but in all but one year Congress has waived the restrictions for national security reasons. If the unfriendly Obama administration could do this, el_Sisi hardly needs to worry about pressure from Trump to improve human rights.
The situation in Egypt is described as follows: Since Morsy’s removal, Egyptian security forces have arrested at least 41,000 and possibly as many as 60,000 people, according to local human rights groups. Security forces arbitrarily detained many under accusations that they were members or sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement to which Morsy belonged. Courts have sentenced thousands for violating a 2013 law that effectively bans opposition protests, including leftists and other non-Islamist activists in addition to alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
In February of 2017 Egyptian security forces shut the offices of the Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture that had operated for 23 years. At least 20 prominent human rights defenders are banned from leaving Egypt. Human rights organization's with foreign funding have been criminalized. Human Rights Watch suggests that as the Trump and el-Sisi administrations want to extend cooperation: In response, the U.S. Congress should maintain, at a minimum, the restrictions on security assistance from previous years unless there is serious and measurable progress on human rights, such as dropping the investigation into nongovernmental organizations, repealing the law banning protests, and beginning a review of the cases of those detained arbitrarily and sentenced solely for peacefully exercising their civil or political rights. Congress should ensure that the Trump administration cannot waive these restrictions. Surely given that the Obama administration waived the human rights restrictions numerous times, the Trump administration can be expected to do the same or perhaps simply repeal the restrictions. An article titled "The Final Death of the Arab Spring Comes Courtesy of Trump" in Buzzfeed by Borzou Daragahi deals in depth with many of the issues concerning the relationship of el-Sisi and Trump.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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