By Skylar Lindsay May 2, 2019
The White House announced on Tuesday that President Donald Trump is pushing to designate Egypt-based Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
As the United States continues to support Egypt with an annual military aid package of $1.3 billion, the U.S. is also funding ongoing human rights violations by the Egyptian military and security forces.
Egyptian President General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen what Human Rights Watch calls the “worst human rights crisis in Egypt in recent decades, including near-total impunity for abuses by the military and security forces.”
Sisi took power in July 2013 in a military coup against then-President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Since then, Egyptian authorities have executed at least 130 people. Sisi’s government has led a crackdown on dissent of all kinds: civil society groups say there are currently 60,000 political prisoners in jail.
“Even during three decades of muzzling civil society under [President Hosni] Mubarak, activists in a wide range of civil activity, from the media, health and law to even street theater groups, were able to take some action,” said Geoffrey Mock, Egypt Country Specialist for Amnesty International USA, “now that space is nearly entirely shut down.”
The Trump administration’s move to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists comes after Sisi’s visit to the White House on April 9, during which he asked Trump to make the change. This has been a long-standing request of Sisi’s, and the U.S. administration has considered it – the Obama administration refused, but ex-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was a key proponent. The group has been linked to terrorist attacks over its 90-year history and may have as many as one million members across 20 or more countries.
U.S. support for the Egyptian military is unwavering; the country is the second-largest recipientof U.S. military aid after Israel, which receives $3.3 billion. Over the past 40 years, the U.S. has provided Egypt with $47 billion in military aid, along with $24 billion in economic assistance.
As Long as Egypt Fights Terrorism, US Military Aid Ignores Growing Human Rights Abuses
Both the Egyptian and U.S. governments claim the military aid program is needed to fight terrorism and maintain stability, especially in the North Sinai region where the military has fought groups linked to the Islamic State. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Sisi use terrorist attacks to justify all aspects of the military campaign and violations of rights to freedom of expression and assembly.
“Whenever human rights abuses are invoked in Egypt, the government’s reflexive response is to talk about the need to fight terrorism,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, Advocacy and Communications Director for Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division. “When addressed to the West, the idea behind that argument is that Egypt’s military is defending not only their country but the whole world. But whoever heeds that pretext, they’re not looking closer.”
In North Sinai, the Egyptian military’s counterterrorism campaign has been largely ineffectivewhile destroying tens of thousands of buildings and demolishing the city of Rafah on the border with Gaza. The city was home to 70,000 people. At least 420,000 people in the area have been in urgent need of humanitarian aid since early 2018, as the military restricts movement and access to food.