Egypt is an important ally to the United States when it comes to combatting the many challenges facing the Middle East, United States Secretary of State John Kerry said late Wednesday during a meeting with Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who arrived in Washington to participate in the Nuclear Security Summit.
Kerry told reporters that Egypt “is a critical voice in helping us to deal with the enormous challenges” in the region, especially in Libya.
“Egypt is working with us to counter terrorism,” Kerry said, adding that Egypt is also playing a vital role in reaching a peaceful resolution to the situation in Yemen, Syria and Libya.
A statement by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said that the two parties agreed on continued support to Egypt in regards to economic challenges and counterterrorism efforts. “Egypt believes cooperation with the US is a pillar of its foreign policy,” Shoukry said in a press conference with Kerry.
Kerry and Shoukry “also discussed the importance of easing restrictions on association and expression in Egypt,” and of “allowing human rights nongovernmental organizations to operate freely.” The brief reference to the state of human rights in Egypt is related to an earlier standoff between the two officials following the reopening of the 2011 NGO foreign funding case.
On March 19, Kerry stated he was “deeply concerned” after a number of human rights defenders in Egypt were accused of receiving illegal foreign funding. Among them was founder and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies Mozn Hassan, whose first interrogation session in the case was adjourned this week. Founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and Mada Masr contributor Hossam Bahgat, along with director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information Gamal Eid, have been banned from travel and had their assets frozen based on a judicial order in the same case.
The decision to reopen the case “comes against a wider backdrop of arrests and intimidation of political opposition, journalists, civil society activists and cultural figures,” Kerry said. “These steps run contrary to the universal principle of freedom of association and to the government of Egypt’s commitments to support the role of civil society in governance and development.”
Following Kerry’s comments, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry fired back at the wave of international condemnation, urging critics to “check their sources.”
“There have been comments from official foreign circles accusing the Egyptian government of cracking down on the freedom of civil society using shameful generalizations, and there is no concrete evidence backing their claims,” said the statement.
These critics “have direct interests in promoting these impressions,” the ministry warned, claiming that their motives must be questioned.
On a related note, US Senator Patrick Leahy and 10 other House of Representatives members sent a letter to Kerry urging him to investigate claims that both Egyptian and Israeli security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” that, if proven true, would impact US military aid to both governments.
The letter, which was obtained by the US-based news outlet Politico, referred to a “disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights violations by Egyptian and Israeli security forces — incidents that may have involved recipients, or potential recipients, of US military assistance.”
The letter pointed to the mass killings of Muslim Brotherhood supporters during the bloody dispersal of Rabea al-Adaweya protests in August 2013, what it described as “extra-judicial killings” of nine Brotherhood members who were shot dead in an apartment in 6th of October City, as well as continued reports of forced disappearances.
Politico reported that Senator Leahy’s call is particularly crucial, since he is the principal sponsor of the law — which is named after him — that prevents the US from providing aid to foreign military units that commit human rights violations. The letter stated that it requests information concerning the application of the Leahy law in both Egypt and Israel.