WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, this week hosted a Facebook Live with Mohamed Soltan, a human rights advocate and former political prisoner in Egypt, ahead of the upcoming Biden administration decision on whether to withhold part of our $1.3 billion in security assistance to Egypt––as required by law.
“[Y]ou were apprehended by Egyptian authorities and then spent 633 days in prison for simply standing up and exercising your human rights. And the story that you have told me and others about that time in captivity is part of what has inspired many of us to press harder for reform in Egypt. But it is also what has convinced me that our continued acquiescence to the crackdown on political speech in Egypt is hurting our security, not helping our security, [and] is radicalizing those who find their way into Egyptian prisons, rather than solving the problem for which [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi] claims he is addressing,” said Murphy.
On the upcoming Biden administration decision on whether to withhold part of our security assistance to Egypt––as required by law––Murphy said: “We're talking today because the Biden administration has a really important decision to make. I believe that the Biden administration should follow the law and withhold a certain portion of funding for Egypt, because Egypt has not made the progress necessary under the law on human rights and political speech, in order to continue to be a $1.3 billion a year partner with the United States. And I really worry about the signal we send to the entire world if we allow the Sisi government to continue its campaign of locking up tens of thousands of political prisoners––torturing them. The rest of the world notices when the United States talks tough on human rights and democracy, but then we don't do anything about it.”
Murphy pointed out that Egypt has vastly more political prisoners than Russia––an adversary that the U.S. does not send security assistance to: "[I] noted that estimates suggests that Sisi has 60,000 political prisoners locked up right now. We would never consider being in the security business with Russia because of how brutal that regime is. Estimates are that Putin only has 400 political prisoners, a fraction of the number of people that are locked up in Egypt today. And it's not just the [number of] people [that] are being locked up, it's how they're treated. We are––we are funding torture."
"It is important to underscore we are not talking about ceasing our security relationship with Egypt, we are talking about a relatively small adjustment as a means to send a message that we are serious. I would argue that we should be in a conversation about the broader extent of our security partnership with Egypt, because as you also mentioned, this relationship has been on autopilot since the 1980s,” said Murphy. “And while Egypt is still an important country, the fundamentals are very different today than they were in the 1980s. The things that we used to think we had to buy from Egypt, for all intents and purposes, like their participation in the peace process, like their counterterrorism partnership, we don't any longer because the Egyptian government does that for their own reasons. So it is a very good example of how the world changes and US policy stays static to the detriment of our nation, our security, and our values.”
Murphy concluded: “I'm going to press very hard for the law to be followed here. And I think the benefits will accrue not just to the Egyptian people but also to, you know, freedom-loving and freedom-wanting people all around the world.”
Murphy has been a vocal critic of Egypt’s dismal human rights record. Last week, Murphy delivered remarks on the U.S. Senate floor calling on the Biden administration to withhold aid to Egypt based on human rights violations—specifically its treatment of political prisoners. In the past, the executive branch has routinely waived conditions that Congress placed on U.S. aid to Egypt.
You can watch Murphy’s full conversation with Soltan here.