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US Muslim groups urge Biden to intervene against Egypt executions

Coalition of Muslim-American groups calls on Washington to withhold aid to Cairo to help halt the imminent execution of 12 political prisoners
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has virtually banned all forms of political opposition (AFP/File photo)
By MEE staff in Washington

A coalition of Muslim American groups has called on the administration of President Joe Biden to intervene to halt a mass execution of political dissidents in Egypt set to take place in the coming days, joining a growing number of rights groups urging increased US pressure on Cairo.

The US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO), which includes some of the largest Muslim American groups, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday stressing that Washington should pressure Cairo "publicly and privately" to stop the executions.

The groups called on Biden to suspend US military aid to Egypt until Cairo improved its human rights record.

"As Americans, we know that Egypt's military dictatorship benefits greatly from our taxpayer dollars," the coalition wrote. "Because of this support, our nation has both the opportunity and the obligation to stop its planned mass execution of political prisoners."

The USCMO includes prominent Muslim groups, such as American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) and the Muslim American Society (MAS).

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Earlier this month, Egypt upheld the death sentence against 12 Muslim Brotherhood leaders arrested in the wake of a coup that brought current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to power in 2013.

Rights groups speak out

Supporters of then-President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, had staged a sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square against the coup. The protest was violently dispersed in a massacre that Amnesty International has called a "horrific turning point for human rights in Egypt".

Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of protesters at Rabaa, and many more were prosecuted in relation to the sit-in, including the 12 Muslim Brotherhood leaders facing imminent execution.

Osama Yassin, who served as minister of youth under Morsi, and Mohamed el-Beltagy, a former lawmaker, are among the prisoners.

They were convicted of "arming criminal gangs", "possessing firearms", "killing policemen" and "resisting authorities".

But rights groups have described the legal proceedings against the 12 Brotherhood leaders as well as against other Rabaa suspects as "sham" trials.

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On Monday, the USCMO said Egypt was "ruled by a brutal military dictatorship with no regard for human rights", stressing that Washington, which provides $1.3bn in annual aid to Cairo, must act against the Egyptian government.

"We cannot condemn the imprisonment of people like Alexei Navalny in Russia and Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma while ignoring the murder of political prisoners in Egypt," the groups said.

"Detaining and murdering political opponents is wrong, regardless of whether an American ally or an American adversary does it."

Also on Monday, 29 rights groups released a joint statement calling on the international community to "urgently and publicly condemn the escalating use of the death penalty in Egypt".

The groups, which include Freedom Initiative, Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN), Reprieve and Human Rights Watch, also launched a Twitter campaign under the hashtag #StopEgyExecutions.

The groups urged the international community to "call on the Egyptian president to immediately institute a moratorium on all executions in Egypt, and commute the death sentences of the 12 men sentenced in relation to the Rabaa dispersal case".

According to a recent report by Amnesty International, Egypt was the third most prolific executioner in the world in 2020 with 107 executions.

Since coming to power after the 2013 coup, Sisi outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and moved to ban virtually all forms of political opposition, jailing thousands of dissidents.

In its letter to Blinken, the USCMO cited Biden's own verbal commitment to human rights to urge him to help stop the executions.

"If the Biden administration truly believes that human rights must guide American foreign policy, it should withhold all financial and political support from Egypt's military regime until it cancels these death sentences, releases all political prisoners, and guarantees human rights to the people of Egypt," the groups said.

Campaign pledges

Biden had vowed to pursue a human rights-focused foreign policy, and as a candidate he specifically rebuked Donald Trump's chummy relationship with Sisi.

"No more blank checks for Trump’s 'favourite dictator'," Biden wrote in a tweet last year, referring to the Egyptian president.

Biden's campaign also vowed to protect human rights around the world when addressing Arab and Muslim American voters.

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"Human rights are at the core of the very idea of America, and the United States is safer when fundamental rights are protected worldwide," Biden's platform for Muslim American communities read. 

"In too many countries, we are seeing governments led by brutal regimes that fail to protect the civil and political rights and the dignity of their citizens."

In a virtual meeting with Arab-American activists in July 2020, Blinken, then serving as a campaign adviser to Biden, also vowed to uphold "human rights and democratic principles" when dealing with the Middle East.

"It does a lot to undermine our moral standing globally and our ability to lead when Donald Trump calls Egyptian President el-Sisi, as he put it, 'my favourite dictator'," Blinken said at the time.

Despite these pledges, the Biden administration is seeking to continue US aid to Egypt without any conditions or restrictions, and US officials have been lauding the Egyptian government for its role in securing a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza last month.

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