(Senate - April 04, 2017)

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[Pages S2221-S2222]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []


  Mr. RUBIO. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the 
issue of human rights as part of my office's ongoing effort on what we 
call the Expression Not Oppression Campaign, where we highlight human 
rights abuses around the world and tell the stories of political 
prisoners and other brave leaders who are being repressed, jailed, 
beaten, or even worse, simply for criticizing the government of a 
nation in which they live.
  This is an important week for human rights. Two nations with 
concerning records regarding human rights--Egypt and China--have sent 
their heads of state to meet with our President. And I will have, I 
hope, a chance later on this week to discuss the issues we confront in 
China, and they are many.
  Today, I want to discuss the state of human rights and our general 
relationship with Egypt.
  Over the past 2 days, the President of Egypt, President Elsisi, has 
been visiting our Nation's Capital. He had the opportunity to meet with 
the President and other officials in the administration. Earlier today, 
I had the opportunity to visit with him as part of a meeting with 
members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  Before entering my remarks, I want to make abundantly clear that we 
are incredibly impressed and grateful and supportive of the efforts 
that President Elsisi and Egypt are undertaking in battling radicalism 
and in particular ISIS. They are undertaking this effort, for example, 
in the Sinai, and it is quite a challenge.
  I also understand that the ongoing ability to defeat radicalism in 
the world depends on the stability of our partners internally. That is 
why the human rights situation in Egypt is concerning. I believe it is 
fair to say it is at its worst in decades, and that is saying 
something. It is important.
  Some may ask ``Why does America care about that?'' beyond, obviously, 
our moral calling to defend the rights of all people. It is that it is 
counterproductive behavior. These abuses--the conditions that exist in 
Egypt and in other places around the world--are actually conducive to 
jihadi ideology, which is the ability to recruit people who feel 
vulnerable, who feel oppressed. They become more vulnerable to those 
campaigns when they feel they are being mistreated.
  The current Government of Egypt, under the leadership of President 
Elsisi, has cracked down on civil society. On that, there can be no 
debate. They have jailed thousands of political prisoners, including, 
sadly, some Americans, and it has responded with brute force to those 
who oppose that government.
  Again, I reiterate that a strong U.S.-Egypt relationship is important 
to America--to advancing our interests in the Middle East. I am here to 
speak on behalf of American interests and why this is so important in 
our relationship with Egypt and in the stability of the region, but I 
must do so by describing the situation on the ground.
  In the national interest of our country, we cannot turn a blind eye 
to the ongoing repression of Egyptian citizens by their government. It 
weakens our moral standing in the world, and, as I have already said 
numerous times, it makes Egypt less secure. If Egypt is less secure, 
ultimately America will be less secure. Today, I said that to President 
  Over the last decades, the American people have provided Egypt with 
more than $77 billion in foreign aid. This includes what is currently 
$1.3 billion per year in military aid. But as the human rights 
situation in Egypt continues to deteriorate and the government refuses 
to take the serious and necessary steps of reform and respecting the 
rule of law, then this Congress, on behalf of the American people--who 
are giving $1.3 billion of their hard-earned taxpayer money--must 
continue to pursue the reform of our assistance to Egypt to make sure 
that not only is it allowing them to confront the challenges that are 
posed by radicalism today but that it also promotes progress in a way 
that does not leave Egypt unstable and ultimately vulnerable in the 
  It is in the interest of both our country and Egypt and the Egyptian 
people to implement reforms and to release all of its jailed political 
prisoners, including all jailed Americans. Nations cannot thrive and 
they cannot prosper if their citizens are oppressed or are unable to 
express themselves freely without fear of being jailed, tortured, or 
  Inevitably, if these conditions continue, there will be a street 
uprising in Egypt once again, and it could very well be led by radical 
elements who seek to overthrow the government and create a space for 
  Human rights abuses in Egypt take on many forms. An example is the 
lack of press freedom. In 2016, Egypt joined other nations in rising to 
the top of the rankings as the world's third highest jailer of 
journalists. According to the Reporters Without Borders' 2016 World 
Press Freedom Index, Egypt currently ranks 159th out of 180 countries 
in terms of press freedom. The media, including journalists, bloggers, 
and those active on social media, are regularly harassed and arrested. 
There are currently 24 journalists who are jailed on trumped-up and 
politically motivated charges. Their ``crimes'' have included 
publishing false information and inciting terrorism. Censorship has 
grown as they continue to interfere in the publication and circulation 
of news--although, by the way, a lot of Egyptian news coverage is very 
anti-American. These are just a few examples of the ongoing repression 
of press freedom in Egypt.
  There are also human rights abuses the Egyptian Government continues 
to commit with regard to freedom of association and of assembly. In 
November of 2016, the Egyptian Parliament passed a draconian law that, 
if signed by President Elsisi, would ban nongovernmental organizations 
from operating freely in Egypt. The law would essentially eliminate all 
independent human rights groups. It would make it nearly impossible for 
charities to function by imposing strict regulations and registration 
processes. Individuals who violate this law could face jail time simply 
for speaking out and fighting to defend human rights. Passing laws like 
these has a chilling effect on dissent.
  Here is the good news: President Elsisi has not signed it over 4 
months later, and I truly hope it is because he is having second 
thoughts about it, because he recognizes the terrible impact it will 
have on his country's future, on their perception around the world, on 
their ability to make progress and reform, and ultimately because he 
also recognizes the impact it will have on free nations, like the 
United States, which desires to work with Egypt on many issues of 
common interest. I strongly encourage President Elsisi to reject that 
anti-NGO law.
  There is the issue of political prisoners. According to the Project 
on Middle East Democracy, since 2013 at least 60,000 political 
prisoners have been arrested in Egypt and 1,800 people have received 
death sentences in what many

[[Page S2222]]

organizations have described as being politically motivated sentences.
  In 2014, President Elsisi issued a decree that expanded the 
jurisdiction of military courts over civilians. According to Human 
Rights Watch, since the decree was issued, the military courts have 
tried over 7,400 Egyptian civilians.
  Additionally, individuals who have been victims of enforced 
disappearances in Egypt have claimed that they were tortured and 
subjected to other forms of abuse when they were taken. There has been 
little accountability for this excessive use of force.
  Egypt's repression is not limited to its own citizens. There are 
currently a number of Americans who are jailed in Egypt. There is one 
American in particular whom I would like to raise: the case of 
American-Egyptian citizen Aya Hijazi.
  Aya was arrested in May of 2014, along with her husband and other 
members of her organization, which is called the Belady Foundation, 
which works with abandoned and homeless youth and rescues these young 
children off the streets. Three years ago, she was arrested and charged 
with ridiculous allegations, including sexual abuse and paying the 
children to participate in demonstrations against the government. To 
date, no evidence has been provided to back these horrible allegations. 
Almost 3 years later, this American citizen remains in prison.
  Throughout that time, I and others here in the Senate have been 
calling for her release, and it is time that the charges against her be 
dropped and her husband and the other workers be released immediately 
because her case and many others like it are an obstacle to better 
  The Egyptian people deserve better than the brutal treatment they are 
receiving at the hands of their government. All human beings do. It is 
incumbent upon us, the elected representatives of the American people, 
to make clear to friends, allies, partners, and foes alike that no 
matter what issues we are working with you on, negotiating a resolution 
to, or dealing with you on in some other way, we are not going to look 
the other way when human rights are being abused. We are going to 
encourage you to reform because in the long run, that is in your 
interest and ours.
  We have seen in recent history the consequences when governments do 
not respect their citizens. It creates instability in those countries. 
Instability is the breeding ground of terrorists and radical elements 
around the world. Ultimately, those terrorists train their sights on 
  As I told President Elsisi today, Egypt is a nation rich in culture 
and history and has made extraordinary contributions to the world. It 
has played a leading role in fostering peace with Israel. But it faces 
a dangerous future if it does not create the conditions within the 
country in which its people can live peacefully and securely without 
fear. Otherwise, Egypt remains vulnerable to the kind of instability we 
have seen in Syria, Libya, and other countries. That is why it should 
matter to the American people.
  I am disappointed that this issue of human rights did not come up 
publicly when the President met with the President of Egypt. I hope 
that will change in the weeks and days and months to come, for it is in 
our national interest to further these goals. Otherwise, sadly, we 
could very well have yet another and perhaps the most important country 
in the region destabilized and ultimately left vulnerable to becoming a 
breeding ground for terrorism that ultimately targets our people and 
our Nation.