EXCLUSIVE: Amnesty International urges Biden to call out Al-Sisi over “vicious crackdown” in Egypt

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Amnesty International on Wednesday urged U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. to call out President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi of Egypt over what it described as “a vicious crackdown against activists, media, and people who do not align with views of the state or his religion.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on April 20, 2016, at the outset of a bilateral meeting preceding an onward flight by the Secretary to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to accompany President Obama during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. [State Department photo/
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on April 20, 2016, at the outset of a bilateral meeting preceding an onward flight by the Secretary to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to accompany President Obama during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. [State Department photo/

In an exclusive interview with Today News Africa correspondents in Washington D.C., Simon Ateba and Kristi Pelzel, Amnesty International Advocacy’s Director for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Americas, Mr. Philippe Nassif, lamented that oppression in Egypt at the moment is “at its worst.”

“Tens of thousands of people have been swept up and detained in Egypt, and Amnesty International has called it the world’s largest open-air prison,” Nassif said. “President Sisi has led a vicious crackdown against activists, media, and people who do not align with views of the state or his religion. Oppression is at its worst, worse than we have seen in any modern times, including torture in prisons and untold numbers of deaths.”

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“Our concern is that the US government had continued to sell arms to Egypt and provided them with political cover. We made that very clear to Congress and the Biden Administration,” added Nassif.

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He called on President Biden, who pledged to defend democracy and human rights around the world, to “publicly denounce the state of human rights in Egypt under President Sisi and demand that things change.”

President Joe Biden participates in a virtual call with the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Mission team members Thursday, March 4, 2021, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)
President Joe Biden participates in a virtual call with the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance Mission team members Thursday, March 4, 2021, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

He argued that “after four years of President Donald Trump that essentially wrote blank checks” to human rights abusers, the United States under President Biden has to “recalibrate and reissue the importance of human rights forcefully and quickly.” “That is not being done by the Biden Administration now.”

Nassif lamented that President Trump essentially gave “a green light for a lot of very bad behavior to take place” around the world, including countries in North Africa and the Middle East, adding that things have to change fast.

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, and boards Air Force One en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Valley International Airport in Harlingen, Texas Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, and boards Air Force One en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

He noted that several countries in the Middle East and North Africa took advantage of the coronavirus lockdowns that forced more people to work remotely to abuse human rights, with some using spyware to target activists – something Saudi Arabia has done extensively.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince

“There is a concern about spyware being used to target activists around the world is something Saudi Arabia has done extensively. An Israeli company has made some of the spyware that has been used. For example, the one that was sent to Kashogi and downloaded through WhatsApp on his phone to track the whereabouts of where he is going. Examples like that are plentiful,” Nassif said. “The issue with digital security is a real problem. And the cover of COVID-19 lockdown has made it easier for governments to target protestors and human rights advocates. It’s a huge concern of ours given the importance of digital communication during COVID-19.”

To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime. Thursday, September 26, 2019
To mark the one-year anniversary of Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, POMED and 12 other human rights and press freedom organizations held a public event on Capitol Hill to commemorate Jamal’s life, to call for accountability, and to cast a light on the Saudi government’s repression of those who are perceived to be critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his regime. Thursday, September 26, 2019

Nassif noted that although it is too early to assess the Biden administration’s human rights records, the high profile in Saudi Arabia where the administration failed to take appropriate action against the crown prince who approved the killing of Jamal Khashoggi may have already emboldened bad actors around the world, including the president of Egypt.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud acceded to the Saudi throne on the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. He served as governor of Riyadh Province for 48 years before becoming defence minister in 2011 and crown prince a year later. Aged 79 when he came to the throne
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud acceded to the Saudi throne on the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. He served as governor of Riyadh Province for 48 years before becoming defence minister in 2011 and crown prince a year later. Aged 79 when he came to the throne

“When I combed through the [2021 US Department of State Human Right Report] section on Saudi Arabia I saw a complete lack of accountability for leadership in Saudi Arabia,” Nassif said. “Again, I am referring to that political cover. There is a concern that the US government is not articulating the real source of the problem. It sets a horrible precedent. If you are President Sisi and you see that the US cannot call out Saudi Arabia, a high profile case that was in the news for years, there likely will be no accountability for them. It sends the wrong message to the bad guys.”

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