On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Rabaa and Nahda massacres in Cairo, a scathing report released by Human Rights First sheds light on the ongoing struggle of local human rights defenders (HRDs) and underscores their concerns over the US’ approach to human rights in Egypt.
Titled ‘Since the Rabaa Massacre: A Decade of U.S. Failure on Egyptian Human Rights’, the report offers an analysis of Washington’s stance towards Egypt over the past decade, revealing a gap between rhetoric and action. The Rabaa massacre of 2013, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 pro-democracy protesters in Rabaa and Nahda neighbourhoods, is considered by activists as “a turning point in Egypt’s human rights crises.”
A year after the incident, Human Rights Watch (HWR) stated: “Given the widespread and systematic nature of these killings, and the evidence suggesting that they were part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds, these killings most likely amount to crimes against humanity.”
This milestone, however, highlights a broader issue – the perceived inaction of the US government to address human rights abuses and support HRDs within Egypt.
Brian Dooley, a senior adviser at Human Rights First and the report’s author, said: “As they struggle to stay out of prison for their defense of human rights, Egyptian activists know that the United States is not keeping its promise to support human rights in Egypt.”
“The U.S government has a legacy of ignoring human rights in allied countries like Egypt, and contrary to campaign promises, the Biden administration has not meaningfully changed the U.S. approach of providing military and political support to President Sisi’s brutal and dictatorial regime.”
The report echoes the voices of Egyptian HRDs who maintain that no US administration, including the current one, has done enough to champion human rights in Egypt since the Rabaa massacre.
One prominent activist, Esra Abdel Fattah, who had previously been imprisoned under the government of late President Hosni Mubarak in 2008 and spent nearly two years in pre-trial detention under the current government of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi before being released in July 2021, was quoted in the report as saying:
“There was a clear message to us from the U.S. government [under Obama] that it supported principles of human rights and democracy, and human rights defenders. But that faded over time and now, under Biden, while this message is better than under Trump, it’s not as much as we expected.”
Another Cairo-based HDR speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that
Egypt has witnessed the worst ten years in living memory in terms of killings, arrests, disappearances, death penalty, everything… it’s the worst ten years on record, and we haven’t seen any significant change under Biden.
The report calls for a re-evaluation of the US approach and presents a series of recommendations to address this perceived failure, including a proposition that security assistance to Egypt be conditioned on tangible advancements in human rights practices.
Additionally, the report calls for targeted sanctions against officials implicated in corruption and human rights violations, emphasising the need for accountability for the Rabaa massacre. The report also urges the US government to rally behind HRDs who have faced imprisonment due to their advocacy efforts.
Aya Hijazi, an Egyptian-American HRD who experienced firsthand the ordeal of imprisonment, lamented the lack of attention afforded to the Rabaa massacre within American consciousness, saying: “I don’t feel the U.S. has in any way done enough to support human rights in Egypt since the Rabaa massacre; none of the U.S. institutions – the executive, the legislature, even the media – have done enough… Rabaa was the worst massacre in modern Egyptian history and in no way has it got the attention it deserved.”