Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers the U.S. government, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. He can be reached on [email protected]
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.”
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.”
[read_more id="2" more="Read full article" less="Read less"]
“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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”