“No more blank checks for Trump’s “favourite dictator,” said Joe Biden during his presidential campaign, using the expression that his predecessor had used to describe Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. This change of course is considered radically different from that of Donald Trump, who had congratulated Sisi for his “very good work.” Meanwhile, it has fallen to the entire opposition to lead an unprecedented crackdown, according to NGOs.
Since Biden’s arrival to the White House, the new secretary of state Antony Blinken’s tone has softened somewhat. After his first phone call with Sameh Shoukry, his Egyptian counterpart, in February, Blinken reiterated the importance of maintaining the “strategic partnership” with Egypt, while specifying that the issue of human rights would be “central.”
After Trump’s defeat, the Egyptian embassy in Washington launched two counter-attacks, prepared by the lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.
Last November, just days after Biden’s election, the company signed a contract with Egypt worth $780,000. A long-time contractor to Saudi Arabia, Brownstein had fought for continued US support for Riyadh’s military campaign in Yemen – support that Biden ended in February 2021.
On the advice of three former Democratic and Republican elected officials who have taken up lobbying, the Egyptian ambassador to Washington devoted part of his first newsletter of 2021 to the formation of the new Egyptian parliament, which would be one of “remarkable diversity; 13 political parties, 472 party members, and 93 independent members… [and ] significant representation through female Members of Parliament (MPs) who are a notable feature of this legislative term.”
It is true that the number of women in government positions has never been so high. But without active participation from the opposition, the election is just a façade. As a study by the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy has shown, the powerful security services control the whole process, from the electoral laws to selecting the candidates that represent the main parties.
Several members of the opposition had also been arrested almost a year before the election, as was revealed by the independent Egyptian news source Mada Masr.
This did not prevent the ambassador from issuing a second newsletter at the end of January, once again praising the government’s commitment to “religious diversity”, and, more precisely that “no Egyptian’s rights and duties should be determined by their religion.”
“The promotion of greater religious tolerance and national unity is the cornerstone of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s policy,” reads this two-page brochure, illustrated by a photo of Pope Tawadros, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, posing alongside the head of state. This view differs from the conclusions of the latest reports of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which criticises Egypt’s “systematic” failure to respect its citizens’ religious freedoms.
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