Over 50 US and UK lawmakers called on President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Boris Johnson to step up efforts to press Egypt to stop human rights abuses in a letter published on Senator Tammy Baldwin’s web page.
The letter called on the two leaders to intensify efforts to lift arbitrary and unjust travel bans, asset freezes and lengthy pretrial detention which many activists, lawyers and others have been subject to.
“We ask you to leverage your strong relationship with Egypt to help end these unlawful and unjust punitive actions,” the letter said.
Egypt and the US are close allies with Cairo having received the second highest amount of American aid for decades.
At the beginning of this year Biden authorised a $2.5 billion arms sale to Egypt, to the dismay of the rights community and politicians who viewed it as a blank cheque for the authoritarian ruler.
Egypt and the UK are also close allies with the British government licensing roughly $300 million worth of arms to Egypt between 2011 and 2021.
This escalation in the abuse of travel bans and asset freezes are “negatively impacting American and British families, universities and civil society,” the letter goes on to say.
Five current or former EIPR employees are under travel bans including Patrick Zaki and Karim Ennarah.
Karim has not been able to join his wife in London for 18 months because of the travel ban which followed his November 2020 arrest after he joined other rights defenders to meet international diplomats to discuss the state of human rights in the country.
The travel bans have not just affected activists, but wealthy Egyptians also. Some are arbitrarily banned from travelling in Egypt, for example if they are the wife or husband of a businessman or woman.
“We urge you to consider unlawful travel bans, asset freezes and pretrial detentions as serious deprivations of liberty, and to use your leverage with your partners in the Egyptian government to immediately resolve these issues,” says the letter.
“By doing so, the US and the UK will be playing a meaningful role in protecting Egyptian civil society and holding the Egyptian government to the level of accountability that we strive for in our defence, security and commercial partners around the world.”
Last week, before Biden made his first visit to the Middle East since becoming president, rights groups called on the US president to demand real progress on human rights in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
They also expressed deep concern about his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, which they said would give a green light to Riyadh to continue its crackdown on civil society, including executions and travel bans.
Tens of thousands of political prisoners are jailed in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.