Torture, censorship and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by Egyptian authorities were among the criticisms outlined by the United States Department of State in its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices published on Wednesday.
The US State Department, which approves a portion of the US$1.3 billion the US provides to Egypt every year based partly on the country’s human rights performance, also cited as cause for concern in its report the repression that presidential candidates were subjected to during last year’s elections, the ongoing practice of forced disappearances, online censorship, the denial of fair trials to political detainees, and the overall restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association. The report accused the Egyptian government of failing to cooperate with the investigations and reporting conducted by local and international human rights organizations.
The report relied on information collected from US government entities and local and international rights organizations, the latter of which have been subject to government repression and media smear campaigns that paint them as bad-faith political operatives with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Indeed, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry challenged the validity of the report in a statement issued on Thursday, asserting that the Egyptian government does not recognize the “grounds” on which the report is based.
“The section on Egypt in this report, and other similar reports, is based on unreliable data and reports that are provided by non-governmental entities and organizations motivated by adverse political positions,” asserts the Foreign Ministry statement.
These organizations issue “unsubstantiated statements and reports that are devoid of any evidence or proof, and that are neither objective nor credible,” the statement says.
Egypt’s official statement casts doubt on its willingness to engage with criticism of the country’s human rights situation from local and international human rights organizations, as well as foreign governments.
But the US State Department report is particularly important because of the US$1.3 billion in aid that the US annually gives Egypt, 15 percent of which is subject to approval by the US State Department, contingent on its assessment of Egypt’s human rights situation.
In 2017, the US denied $96 million in aid and suspended $195 million in military aid to Egypt, reportedly over its human rights record and diplomatic relations with North Korea, before restoring the military aid a year later. US officials said at the time that Egypt had addressed their specific concerns but did not elaborate on what the concerns had been.
In the interim, Egypt reduced the number of North Korea diplomats in Cairo and agreed to a retrial of 43 foreign aid workers, some of whom had been tried in absentia.
In roughly the same period, the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms counted 230 cases of forced disappearance in Egypt, which are cited in the new US report.
The US State Department report refers to several reports that accuse the Egyptian government of extrajudicial killings, including of government detainees. In addition, it references a report by the UN Committee Against Torture, which stated that torture is a “systematic practice” of the Egyptian government.
The report also points out that Egypt’s Public Prosecution has not yet completed its investigation of the murder of Giulio Regeni — the Italian doctoral student who was found dead in February 2016 — despite requests by the Italian government to interrogate national security officers who are suspected of involvement in the incident.
Furthermore, the report accused the Egyptian government of violating the constitutional right to freedom of expression. The report cited the case of Amal Fathy, a human rights activist who was arrested on charges of abusing a means of communication and publishing false news after she posted a video in which she criticized the sexual harassment she experiences in Egypt to her Facebook account.
The report also referred to the government’s restriction of internet access and the monitoring of private online communications without judicial oversight. It condemned the blocking of 490 websites, which includes Mada Masr, without providing a clear legal basis or revealing the authority responsible for the censorship. The report also denounced restrictions on the academic and cultural spheres.
And regarding refugees, the report pointed to Human Rights Watch’s account of an incident in which the Egyptian government arrested Mohamed Boshi, who had applied for asylum in Egypt, and deported him back to Sudan, where he faces the death penalty.
The US midterm elections last fall have put Egypt in a slightly worse position regarding aid: Democrats, who have been more skeptical of Egypt’s value as a regional partner, took control of the House of Representatives. In January, they moved to cut aid to Egypt by $300 million. This was later reversed in the revised congressional spending bill, as the US government wrangled over a potential shutdown amid US President Donald Trump’s insistence on earmarks for his plan to build a separation wall along the border with Mexico.