Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Recent Developments in Egypt United States Senator Floor

Mr. President, last week Egyptian government investigators working on behalf of a judge who is overseeing a four-year-old case against international and Egyptian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) visited the main office of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, or CIHRS, and asked for registration and financial documents.  The investigators reportedly tried to pass off an informal search warrant as legal cover, but CIHRS staff made clear they couldn’t search the office without an official one.  The investigators left, but their message was clear:  a new crackdown is on the way.

According to information I have received, CIHRS is the second organization to receive such a visit this year.  The same investigators previously visited another organization, the Egyptian Democratic Academy, and looked into their activities and funding sources.  Four members of the Academy have since been banned from leaving Egypt.

Some Senators may remember this case:  it is the same one that led to the conviction of 43 foreign and Egyptian NGO workers, including 16 Americans, in 2013.  The fact that the Egyptian authorities have decided to resuscitate this old case against these NGOs shows that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s administration is confident that it can silence critical voices with little international objection.

Since the 2011 revolution, the government has made several efforts to replace a harsh 2002 law on associations – unevenly implemented under former President Hosni Mubarak – with even more draconian regulations, including a draft law that would have given the government and security agencies effective veto power over NGO boards of directors, foreign funding, and very existence.  Although a new law has yet to be passed, the authorities have previously raided or detained staff from respected organizations such as the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.

I am deeply concerned with the reinvigoration of this four-year-old case and the message it sends about Cairo’s intent to restrict independent NGOs.  I am similarly concerned with recent press reports alleging that the authorities have disappeared a significant number of young people, some of whom later died, in a coordinated campaign, activists say, to silence dissent.  Such actions, if true, are deplorable and are no way to effectively combat terrorism and related insecurity.

Support for a strong and flourishing independent civil society is a critical part of any pluralistic society, but we are seeing the reverse in Egypt.  As the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State and Foreign Operations which provides assistance for Egypt, I am dismayed by the al-Sisi government’s rejection of basic freedoms, whether it is the right to express oneself or the right to assemble.  Such repressive tactics are not likely to contribute to greater security or stability in Egypt – instead they are likely to do just the opposite. 

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