President Joseph R. Biden
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

July 11, 2022

Dear Mr. President:

We write to you as members of the bipartisan Working Group on Egypt regarding your potential meeting with Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi later this week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Should you speak with President al-Sisi on a bilateral basis in Jeddah, we respectfully ask that you make U.S. concerns about Egypt’s deplorable human rights record central to the conversation.

Since rising to power nine years ago via a military coup, al-Sisi has ruled Egypt with shocking levels of repression. As documented in the State Department’s own human rights reports, his regime has stripped citizens of their basic rights, crushed independent political activity, silenced dissent through state violence and mass imprisonment, stifled civil society and media, and effectively created a presidency-for-life. Credible reports show that the security agencies, including the U.S.-funded military, have committed widespread abuses including killing of protestors, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, and torture including sexual abuse with impunity. Some Egyptians describe their country today as a “republic of fear.”

The regime’s belated release of a relatively small number of political detainees in recent months is welcome, but vastly inadequate and does nothing to address the institutionalized nature of repression in Egypt. Some 60,000 prisoners have been arrested on political grounds (according to an estimate by Human Rights Watch), while new political arrests and convictions continue apace. We also note that al-Sisi’s 2021 “national strategy for human rights,” although praised by your administration, has yet to produce any meaningful rights improvements and so far has been a public relations exercise.

Your emphasizing human rights concerns with al-Sisi would advance U.S. national interests in two ways. First, it would lend credence to your leadership of what you have called the global “battle between democracy and autocracy, between liberty and repression.” In order to lead you must be willing to call out and hold accountable rights-abusing “partners” such as Egypt, not only adversaries like Russia, Iran, and North Korea. This would be consistent with your declared policy of putting human rights at the “center” of U.S. foreign policy. Further, the United States’ long-standing partnership with Egypt provides your administration a platform to influence the trajectory of developments there.

Second, al-Sisi’s resurgent repression poses a threat to Egypt’s stability and to stability in the region. As we have seen before, including in Egypt, regimes that govern cruelly and without accountability breed alienation and discontent that can eventually tip into popular unrest, or worse. The lack of channels in Egypt to express dissent or work for political change are creating the conditions that may lead to a destabilizing political rupture. In addition, al-Sisi’s unaccountable and corrupt economic policies—impoverishing large numbers of citizens and incurring staggering debt to pay for questionable arms imports and vanity mega-projects—have made the country increasingly vulnerable to global shocks and have contributed to Egypt’s deepening fiscal crisis, for which al-Sisi has been urgently seeking international help. As long as the United States continues to provide Egypt with economic and security backing, it has a significant stake in how the country is governed.

For these reasons, we respectfully ask you to convey the following messages to President al-Sisi in Jeddah:

  • Robust civil societies and free media are integral to countries’ ability to respond to urgent global challenges like the climate crisis. Senior Biden administration officials will be unable to attend the UN climate conference, COP27, that Egypt will host in Sharm el-Sheikh in November unless al-Sisi commits to welcoming local and international civil society, including peaceful protesters and media, without restrictions and takes meaningful steps to lessen pressure on Egyptian civil society and media beyond the conference. Such steps would include lifting travel bans and asset freezes on human rights defenders, freeing imprisoned journalists, and unblocking websites.

  • Your administration will withhold a significant portion of this year’s military aid unless al-Sisi: takes concrete steps to reform Egypt’s abusive pretrial detention system, as promised in his national human rights strategy; frees the political prisoners whose cases your administration began raising with Egypt more than a year ago; releases all prisoners convicted in emergency state security court trials since al-Sisi ended the state of emergency last October, including Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed al-Baqer; and stops misusing counterterrorism legislation to target non-violent critics or their family members.

When you travel to Jeddah, we urge you to underscore to al-Sisi that “a more stable and secure region” can only be accomplished with tangible and authentic progress on human rights, the rule of law, and accountability, and that the United States’ strongest ties will be with governments that are committed to human rights and democratic values.

Thank you for your consideration.


Amy Hawthorne (chair)
Project on Middle East Democracy

Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations

Nicole Bibbins Sedaca
Freedom House

Thomas Carothers
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Larry Diamond
Stanford University

Michele Dunne
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Reuel Marc Gerecht
Foundation for Defense of Democracies

Neil Hicks
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Thomas Hill
Former staff member, House Committee on Foreign Affairs

Robert Kagan
Brookings Institution

Elisa Massimino
Georgetown University

Stephen McInerney
Project on Middle East Democracy

Michael Posner
New York University

Kenneth Wollack
National Endowment for Democracy

Sarah Yager
Human Rights Watch


* The Working Group on Egypt is a bipartisan group of foreign affairs experts formed in 2010 to advocate for principled and effective U.S. policies toward Egypt. Members participate in the Working Group in their individual capacity; institutional affiliations are provided for the purpose of identification only.

Photo credit: Adam Schultz / Official White House photo