Egypt: Despite pressures, the scenario of “release” and “re-arrest” of opponents is ongoing

A few days ago, Biden officials approved $75M in military aid for Egypt under allegations that the country has made “clear and consistent progress in releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law”.

U.S. officials revealed on September 14 that they will withhold $130 million out of $1.3 billion in military aid to Egypt for the second year in a line, ignoring calls from members of Congress and human rights organizations to hold back the entire $300 million that was conditioned on human rights benchmarks.

Last year, the US administration temporarily withheld the funds in September while giving the Egyptian regime time to meet new conditions before ultimately deciding to reprogram them four months later. This year, in contrast, officials have already decided to redirect the aid to “other U.S. national security priorities,” averting another battle in a few months’ time.

The administration is holding back $130 million after concluding that Egypt failed to achieve certain human rights improvements conditioned by Congress, such as strengthening the rule of law and holding security forces accountable for human rights violations.

Of the $170 million in conditioned funds that the administration is providing to Egypt, $95 million is being released due to a clause that exempts funds intended for counterterrorism, border security, and nonproliferation programs.

The administration also determined that Egypt has made “clear and consistent progress in releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law,” allowing it to release the remaining $75 million.

American officials cited as evidence the releases of five hundred political prisoners through the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee, as well as the regime’s supposed promises of improvements to pretrial detention practices through the upcoming national dialogue. They did not, however, make any reference to due process.

Backlash was immediate, particularly over the administration’s claim that Egypt has made progress in releasing political prisoners and providing due process.

As Senator Chris Murphy noted, “There is no way Egypt has made clear and consistent progress on releasing political detainees. Out of some 60,000 political prisoners, less than 1 percent have been released over the last year. During that same time period, 10 times as many prisoners had their detentions renewed.”

Murphy described the administration’s decision not to withhold all of the aid conditioned by congress as “a missed opportunity to stand up for human rights.”

Seth Binder, director of advocacy  at the project on middle east democracy stated: “More political prisoners have been arrested than released, thousands more have had detentions renewed, and not one step has been taken to improve due process rights during this span,” he said. “This rewards al-Sisi’s regime for something they clearly didn’t do.”

‘Release’ and ‘Re-arrest’

Egyptian activist Sherif_El-Rouby was re-arrested and accused with trumped-up charges, just few months following his recent release in May.

“Only three months after his release with a presidential pardon, the security forces re-arrested activist Sherif Al-Ruby, where the Supreme State Security Prosecution decided to imprison him for 15 days pending Case No. 1634 of 2022 Supreme State Security on the grounds of charges of joining a terrorist group and spreading false news,” Democracy for the Arab World Now tweeted.

“Sherif has been writing about his fellow prisoners of conscience and the appalling prison experience. His arrest is a terrifying message,” tweeted Mina Thabet.

“Al-Sisi regime is officially sending a clear message, no one is safe, anyone can get back to prison, former prisoners of conscience are not free to share their horrible memories, feelings, experiences in prison. They are not safe to call for their fellow cell mates to be released,” he said.

Sanaa Seif, whose brother, activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, remains in prison on a hunger strike despite an international campaign on his behalf, added, “Progress would be to start operating like a state, not a mafia gang that releases some hostages every now and then.”

Human Rights Watch stated that the administration’s decision “does not sufficiently respond” to the regime’s ongoing repression and rights abuses.

“Egyptian activists and civil society groups have been pummeled by wave after wave of arrests, travel bans, unfair trials, and other means of repression,” said Nicole Widdersheim, the organization’s deputy Washington director.

“The Biden administration should say enough is enough and consistently ratchet up the pressure until substantial human rights improvements are clear.”