October 24, 2022
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President,
Given news of your potential attendance at the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), we, the undersigned 19 organizations, urge your administration to secure human rights progress before any meeting with Egypt’s authoritarian leader, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. We appreciate the necessity for strong U.S. leadership to combat climate change and welcome your administration’s commitment to addressing this global crisis. The African continent, including Egypt, is disproportionately affected by climate change, and we applaud your acknowledgement that marginalized communities must be centered in climate justice and climate solutions. Robust action on climate change, ultimately, can only succeed with the free participation of civil society.
President al-Sisi, unfortunately, presides over a government that has shown little interest in facilitating the kind of good governance, public discourse, or inclusive policy making that is essential to developing effective, community-oriented climate change policies. Indigenous peoples and their advocates are jailed for peacefully demanding land rights. Citizens have been uprooted from their homes and conservation areas have been destroyed as the government embarks on unsustainable “development” projects across the country. Environmental engineers such as MIT-educated Seif Fateen languish in jail without charges; environmental activists such as Ahmed Abdelsattar Amasha have been tortured while in prison; indigenous rights activists, including from Sinai, have been unjustly detained; and sustainability-forward business leaders like Seif and Safwan Thabet likewise remain behind bars. Egypt has prevented critical components of civil society from participating in discussions around environmental policies and climate change (including COP27) with harassment, intimidation, and restrictions on registration, research, and funding.
The repression of free speech and activity around environmental issues is emblematic of the country’s broader crackdown on human rights. Tens of thousands remain detained on political charges; the right to protest has been criminalized; and independent media and civil society has been severely repressed and is increasingly under threat.
It is against this backdrop and your potential trip to Egypt, the first for any U.S. president since 2009, that COP27 comes to Sharm el Sheikh. Traveling to Egypt without addressing the country’s human rights crisis risks bolstering the Egyptian government’s international whitewashing efforts and emboldening its campaign of repression. On a larger scale, it would undercut your administration’s efforts to combat climate change and promote human rights, two core national security interests of the United States. The Egyptian government has demonstrated that it will respond to U.S. government concerns over human rights when they are backed by concrete actions such as reprogramming U.S. military aid, as your administration has done for two consecutive years.
Therefore, we echo the demands made by Egyptian and international rights organizations and urge you to insist on the following as a prerequisite for any bilateral meeting you may have with President al-Sisi:
- Immediately and unconditionally release the political prisoners and lift the abusive travel bans and asset freezes against civil society activists named in the 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Egypt;
- End the intimidation, harassment, and prosecution of journalists and civil society organizations, including a final and complete closing of Case 173;
- Lift unlawful blocks on news sites and other websites;
- Guarantee meaningful participation in COP27 for Egyptians and foreign nationals, including for purposes of protest or dissent;
- Respect and protect prisoners’ right to be free from torture and other ill-treatment; and
- Refrain from retreating or backsliding on rights commitments after the conference, such as re-arresting political activists recently released.
Belady An Island for Humanity (BIH), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Committee for Justice (CFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Democracy for The Arab World Now (DAWN), Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR), Egyptian Human Rights Forum (EHRF), EgyptWide for Human Rights, FEMENA, The Freedom Initiative, International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), MENA Rights Group, PEN America, Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP), US Committee to End Political Repression in Egypt , Win Without War, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)