from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

Egypt: Pressure Works

September 24, 2015

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Middle East and North Africa

Egypt

Human Rights

Politics and Government

President Sisi of Egypt just announced pardons of roughly 100 political prisoners.

The New York Times story said this:

Mr. Sisi’s willingness to discard the convictions with the stroke of a pen revived questions about why the defendants had been charged at all. The pardons also raised new doubts about the ability of Egypt’s judiciary to fairly settle the cases of thousands of other people also imprisoned on political charges. Since Mr. Sisi led the military takeover of the government more than two years ago, the authorities have systematically rounded up perceived opponents, including Islamists and secular-leaning activists, filling Egypt’s jails.

Not exactly. There are actually few questions or doubts. These people were arrested for protesting against the regime. Egypt’s judiciary is not independent and cannot fairly handle the cases.

Why the pardons? Simple: pressure works. There was intense international criticism of the arrests and the phony trials. Sisi is about to go to New York to speak at the UN General Assembly and wants to improve his image. If the pressure is maintained and intensified, perhaps additional political prisoners will be released, and perhaps the police will be told to stop arresting and brutalizing peaceful protesters. That is a message to the Obama administration and to Congress, where there has been some--but not enough--pressure on Egypt to respect human rights. There has been concern that in response to such pressure Sisi would lash out at the United States and turn to Russia as his benefactor. Instead, he grants the pardons. Sisi is not being asked to commit political suicide, but to respect the international human rights treaties to which Egypt is a party. That is not too much for the United States, which gives Egypt $1.3 billion a year, to ask.

Before we leave Egypt, here’s a question: France just announced that Egypt is buying the two warships that were originally to be sold to Russia, Mistral-class helicopter carriers. The original price was $1.7 billion. The question is, who’s paying? Egypt has trouble servicing its debt and buying enough grain to feed its population, and it survives on Gulf subventions. Is someone handing over an additional billion or two? Have the French given extremely long credit terms? Perhaps we’ll find out in the coming weeks.

 

More on:

Middle East and North Africa

Egypt

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Politics and Government

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