(Senate - April 04, 2017)

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[Pages S2211-S2212]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                       PRESIDENT EL-SISI'S VISIT

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, this week, Egypt's President Abdel Fattah 
el-Sisi is in Washington where he is meeting with President Trump and 
other senior administration officials, as well as some Members of 
  President Trump has spoken glowingly of President el-Sisi, as he has 
of Russian President Putin and Philippine President Duterte. ``Strong 
leaders,'' he calls them, as if that is enough to justify our 
wholehearted support. Unfortunately, world history is replete with 
examples of strong, messianic leaders who abused their power in ways 
that caused immense hardship for their people and divisiveness and 
conflict in their countries.
  Despite that, the White House has voiced its strong support for 
President el-Sisi, and for U.S.-Egyptian relations.
  I have been to Egypt many times, and I have voted for billions of 
dollars in U.S. aid for Egypt to support economic and security programs 
in that country. I have recognized positive developments in Egypt when 
they occur, such as President el-Sisi's decision to undertake economic 
reforms, including by reducing some subsidies. Far more needs to be 
done, however, if Egypt's economy is to break free of decades of state 
control, endemic corruption, and gross mismanagement.
  I am also aware of the security threats Egypt faces in Libya and in 
the Sinai, although I and others have expressed deep concern with the 
flawed tactics the Egyptian Government is using to combat those 
threats. The U.S. has an interest in helping Egypt confront these 
challenges by addressing the underlying causes in a manner that is 
effective and consistent with international law.
  President Trump has called President el-Sisi a fantastic guy. 
Ironically, that says a lot more about President Trump than it does 
about President el-Sisi.
  President el-Sisi, a former general who seized power by force, has 
ruled with an iron fist. He has effectively banned public criticism of 
his government since the removal of former President Morsi, enforcing 
what amounts to a prohibition on protests and arresting hundreds of 
people in connection with the ban, many preemptively.
  President el-Sisi's government has engaged in one of the widest 
arrest campaigns in the country's modern history, targeting a broad 
spectrum of political opponents. Local civil society organizations 
estimate that between 40,000 and 60,000 people are detained on 
political grounds, such as for protesting or calling for a change in 
government. Police have accused many of having links to the Muslim 
Brotherhood, usually without evidence that they have advocated or 
engaged in violence. Many other detainees belong to other political 
organizations or have no party affiliation.
  A systematic crackdown on Egypt's independent civil society has left 
it on the verge of collapse. According to human rights groups, nearly 
every prominent Egyptian human rights defender or civil society leader 
is banned

[[Page S2212]]

from leaving the country as part of a judicial investigation into the 
foreign funding of their organizations. A law signed by President el-
Sisi in 2014 would allow prosecutors to seek 25-year sentences for 
illegally receiving foreign funding. Parliament has also proposed a new 
law regulating civil society organizations which, if adopted, would 
effectively outlaw independent human rights work in the country.
  Despite repeated requests by U.S. officials, including some 
Republicans and Democrats in Congress, President el-Sisi's government 
has refused to release those detained for political reasons for months 
or years without charge or on trumped up charges like Egyptian-American 
citizen Aya Hijazi.
  The media has also been targeted, with authorities threatening and 
jailing journalists who reported on political opposition. Some foreign 
journalists have been barred from the country after writing articles 
critical of the government. As of December 2016, Egypt was the third-
highest jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect 
Journalists. This pattern of harassment and arrests is not new. It has 
been happening for years, and, contrary to the representations of 
Egyptian officials, it is getting worse.
  According to Human Rights Watch, members of the security forces, 
particularly the Interior Ministry's National Security Agency, 
routinely torture detainees to elicit confessions. This torture usually 
occurs during periods of enforced disappearance that can last for weeks 
or months. The widespread use of torture has also been reported by the 
State Department. Despite hundreds of reported cases of torture and 
enforced disappearance, since 2013, only a handful of police officers 
have reportedly been punished for violating the law.
  According to information I have received, prison conditions remain 
deplorable, and political detainees are beaten, often deprived of 
contact with relatives and lawyers, and denied access to medical care.
  The government's use of U.S. aircraft and other military equipment in 
its counterterrorism campaign against a local ISIS affiliate in the 
northern Sinai has not only resulted in indiscriminate attacks against 
civilians and other gross violations of human rights, it has made the 
terrorism situation worse. Requests by myself, as well as State and 
Defense Department officials and by independent journalists and 
representatives of human rights groups, for access to conflicted areas, 
have been denied.
  While President Trump and other U.S. officials unabashedly praise 
President el-Sisi, I wonder how they reconcile their portrayal of him 
with his crackdown against civil society and brutal repression of 
dissent. In fact, it can't be reconciled, and it damages our own 
credibility as a strong defender of human rights and democratic 
  I want to reiterate what I said in this Chamber on September 27, 
2016, when I spoke about Aya Hijazi, the young Egyptian American social 
worker currently detained in Egypt. Ms. Hijazi, along with her Egyptian 
husband and five employees of their organization Belady, has been 
accused of salacious crimes that the government has yet to corroborate 
with any credible evidence; yet she has been jailed since May 21, 2014. 
Just last month, a decision in her case was inexplicably delayed until 
later this month. It is long past time for her ordeal to end.
  The United States and Egypt have common interests in an increasingly 
troubled region. Egypt has acted to reduce the smuggling of weapons 
into Gaza, and it has helped to broker ceasefires with Hamas. Our 
support for Egypt is demonstrated by the fact that, over the past 70 
years, U.S. taxpayers have provided more than $70 billion in economic 
and military aid to Egypt. I doubt that many Egyptians know that, as 
most have a decidedly unfavorable opinion of the United States.
  After three decades of corrupt autocratic rule by former President 
Mubarak, Egypt once again has a former military officer as President 
who has chosen to rule by force. It is neither justified, nor is it 
necessary. If, on the contrary, President el-Sisi were to demonstrate 
that he has a credible plan for transforming Egypt's economy, for 
improving education and creating jobs, for respecting due process and 
other fundamental rights, and for addressing the discrimination and 
lack of economic opportunities that are at the root of the violence in 
the Sinai, the Egyptian people would support him. They would also have 
a brighter future. Instead, I fear that, by relying on repression, he 
is sowing the seeds of misery and civil unrest, which is in the 
interest of neither the Egyptian people nor the American people.