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Deep US Concern for Human Rights in Egypt? Time Says So

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on July 22, 2014. (Photo: US Department of State)

In a piece about Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to build a coalition to support the attack the Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria, Time magazine's Michael Crowley (9/18/14) made a curious assertion about the US government's position on Egypt:

When Kerry appeared with Egypt's foreign minister later in the day, the Egyptian seemed to set a price: increased US assistance against Islamic radicals within Egypt and in neighboring Libya. And Kerry was forced to respond gingerly when asked about local human-rights abuses, a longtime US concern in the repressive country, saying Egypt would take steps "on an appropriate schedule that is controlled by Egyptians, not by me."

The idea that the United States is being forced to suspend any "longtime concerns" about Egyptian human rights is hard to square with reality. For several decades, the United States considered brutal dictator Hosni Mubarak an ally; the initial US government response to the 2011 uprisings that would remove him from power was supportive (FAIR Media Advisory, 2/1/11). The New York Times noted (1/27/11) that "Mr. Obama praised Mr. Mubarak as a partner but said he needed to undertake political and economic reforms," while Vice President Joe Biden challenged the notion that Mubarak was a dictator at all (FAIR Blog, 1/28/11).

And WikiLeaks cables showed that the Obama administration was backing off even making public criticisms of the regime's human rights abuses; the New York Times (1/27/11) reported that the documents


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show in detail how diplomats repeatedly raised concerns with Egyptian officials about jailed dissidents and bloggers, and kept tabs on reports of torture by the police.

But they also reveal that relations with Mr. Mubarak warmed up because President Obama played down the public "name and shame" approach of the Bush administration. A cable prepared for a visit by Gen. David H. Petraeus in 2009 said the United States, while blunt in private, now avoided "the public confrontations that had become routine over the past several years."

Of course, the Egypt story didn't end with Mubarak's ouster. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won presidential elections in 2012, only to be removed by a military coup a year later. It is believed that as many as  2,500 were killed by Egyptian forces following the coup (The Nation, 5/8/14). The United States did not condemn the coup, and would eventually welcome former military leader Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, who in elections staged by the coup regime this year won an incredible, Mubarak-like  96 percent of the vote.

US leaders occasionally issue statements about their concern for human rights in a given country. But when judging a government's actual position, the clear, decades-long record should be matter more than the rhetoric–especially to journalists.

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Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the Communications Director at the National Coalition Against Censorship. Previously at the media watchdog group FAIR, Hart is also the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly. (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

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