US criticises Egypt’s rights violations in rare rebuke

The US State Department has expressed concern about the Al Jazeera journalist detained in Egypt, Mahmoud Hussein. A spokeswoman for the ministry said on Wednesday that Washington is concerned about the frequent reports on Mahmoud Hussein. This statement is a rare criticism from Washington of the poor human rights record in Egypt. Over the past few years, Washington has systematically condoned all human rights violations in Egypt, and the administration of US President Donald Trump seemed unwilling to criticise General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime.

Trump steadfastly overlooked all of al-Sisi’s human rights sins, even with his full knowledge of the extent of the dictatorship of the military regime in Egypt, and its human rights violations. The Wall Street Journal revealed that Trump described al-Sisi as “his favourite dictator,” while waiting for a meeting with him on the sidelines of the 2019 G7 summit in France.

However, in January, American citizen Mustafa Kassem died in an Egyptian prison, which prompted the American State Department to criticise the Egyptian regime. After Kassem’s death, condoning human rights violations in Egypt became a heavy and embarrassing burden on the American administration, which received a lot of criticism for its silence on imprisoning Kassem for more than six years until his death. Foreign Policy magazine revealed that the US State Department recently raised the idea of cutting a large chunk of annual military aid to Egypt due to Kassem’s death. US aid to Egypt amounts to $1.3 billion.

The American magazine quoted four sources familiar with the matter as saying that a memo sent by the Office of the Near East Affairs to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in early March suggested reducing up to $300 million of US military aid to Egypt over Kassem’s death. The memo indicated that US President Donald Trump appealed in vain to secure his release in his final days. Foreign Policy mentioned that during his two-year tenure, Pompeo twice neglected human rights considerations in order to approve military aid to Egypt, prompting several experts to question whether the Trump administration would ever make any cuts.

Al Jazeera has launched a new campaign to demand the Egyptian authorities release Hussein, in conjunction with the outbreak of coronavirus in Egypt, and the emergence of reports indicating possible infections among prisoners. Calls for the release of detainees in Egyptian prisons increased during the past days, as human rights activists fear an outbreak inside the overcrowded cells would be deadly and the fact that a large number of them are in poor health due to medical neglect.

Egyptian authorities canceled the release order for Mahmoud Hussein, which was issued in May 2019, and returned him to prison under a new case. It is interesting that what he is alleged to have done on the new case happened whilst he was inside Tora Prison, south of Cairo. On December 25, 2016, Egyptian security forces arrested Mahmoud Hussein during his annual holiday in Cairo, and arrested his two brothers and raided their homes.

A force from the National Security Agency took both Hussein and his two brothers to an unknown destination at the time, before they were transferred to the Supreme State Security Prosecution. His detention has been regularly renewed since then. The State Security Prosecutor charged Hussein with “inciting against the Egyptian state, provoking chaos, disturbing the public peace, broadcasting inflammatory video material against Egypt, and publishing false news.”