Aid to Egypt: Do human rights matter?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Cairo on March for talks with Egyptian leaders. Photo by: U.S. State Department

EDITOR’S NOTE: U.S. aid to Egypt shouldn’t be linked exclusively to economic needs and policies, notes Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. Abrams hopes the United States, in exchange for the aid, won assurances from the Egyptian government that it would stop prosecutions against journalists and NGO workers.

The White House read-out of the President’s February 26 call with Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said this:

The President…emphasized President Morsy’s responsibility to protect the democratic principles that the Egyptian people fought so hard to secure.

Secretary of State Kerry then visited Cairo, and used his visit to Egypt to announce an additional $250 million in aid to Egypt. The New York Times reported that:

The statement issued by Mr. Kerry noted that he and Mr. Morsi had discussed the need to ensure the fairness of Egypt’s coming elections, but it did not mention any specific political commitments the Egyptian president had made to receive the aid.

What became of  the need to “protect democratic principles?”

The Times appears to be quite right in saying there were no “specific political commitments,” for the very next day the government of Egypt went after an additional victim in the media for the crime of “insulting the President.” Here is part of the Bloomberg story:

Egypt’s prosecutor-general has ordered an investigation of television comedian Bassem Youssef, following a complaint alleging he insulted President Mohamed Morsi during his satirical program. The complaint accused Youssef of ridiculing and insulting Morsi by parodying parts of his Feb. 25 interview on the Mehwar satellite channel and suggesting he be awarded an Oscar as best actor, according to an e-mailed statement today. The lawsuit is the latest of several to be filed against media personalities in what secularists fear is an assault on freedom of expression and the press under Morsi’s Islamist government.

I do not know whether Secretary Kerry told Egypt’s president how much Americans despise such prosecutions. I hope he did, although if he did the reaction-the prosecution of Youssef a day later-was not very promising. As I have written here before, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information has done a report on “The Crime of Insulting the President” that tells us how many times this law has been invoked since its adoption in 1909–when the crime was “insulting the king.” Hosni Mubarak invoked the law in only four cases in all his thirty years ruling Egypt. King Farouk, who ruled for sixteen years, invoked it only 7 times. But according to the report, Mohammed Morsi had already won the prize by invoking it in 24 cases.

Make that 25.

The Times article stated that “Mr. Kerry said the aid decision reflected Egypt’s ‘extreme needs’ and Mr. Morsi’s assurance that Egypt would reach an agreement with the I.M.F. after more than a year of talks over a $4.8 billion loan package.” This makes it seem that democracy and human rights are afterthoughts, but I would argue that Egypt also has an “extreme need” for its government to stop prosecuting journalists and anyone else who criticizes its president. Did we get any assurances that such prosecutions would stop? That the outrageous prosecutions of NGO workers would be ended?

If the President means his words to be taken seriously, aid to Egypt must be linked not only to its economic needs and policies. It must truly be linked to whether Morsi does in fact “protect the democratic principles that the Egyptian people fought so hard to secure.”

Republished with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations. View the original article.

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