March 22, 2018

Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

The Honorable John J. Sullivan
Acting Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear General McMaster and Acting Secretary of State Sullivan,

We write to you to express our concern about Egypt’s upcoming presidential election, which begins March 26. This election is a charade. It is neither free nor democratic. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has eliminated all serious candidates and is now running against a virtual unknown who endorsed Sisi for a second term. The election will occur against a backdrop of massive human rights abuses and an active campaign against local and foreign media. We urge you not to treat this election as a legitimate expression of the Egyptian people’s will and to withhold praise or congratulations.

This year’s presidential election will be even less free and fair than President al-Sisi’s flawed election in 2014, when he at least ran against a genuine opposition figure. This time al-Sisi has intimidated, detained, or prosecuted all five serious candidates. Former military chief Sami Anan was arrested and held in military jail; Ahmed Shafik (runner-up in the 2012 presidential election) was intimidated into withdrawing; and army colonel Ahmed Konsowa was prosecuted and sentenced to six years in prison. The two nonmilitary candidates (parliamentarian Mohamed Anwar Sadat, nephew of the late Egyptian president, and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali) withdrew from the race when its farcical nature became evident. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a prominent opposition party leader who called for voters to boycott due to all these developments, has been imprisoned, as has former top auditor Hisham Geneina (who supported Anan).

In recent months, Egypt’s already abysmal human rights record has further deteriorated. Unprecedented abuses by the Egyptian security forces include extrajudicial killings, detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners, widespread torture, and forced disappearances. The ongoing crackdown on civil society and journalists worsens, with Egypt becoming one of the three worst jailers of journalists worldwide. The Sisi regime has also begun attacking foreign journalists. Less than two months after Vice President Pence called for U.S. citizen Moustafa Kassem to be released after over four years of pretrial detention in Egypt, Sisi’s prosecutors recommended that he and more than 700 codefendants receive the death penalty.

After his assured election, al-Sisi is expected to have his supporters in parliament propose amendments to the constitution to remove presidential term limits and otherwise enhance his powers—thus removing the few remaining checks on executive power put in place after the 2011 uprising. Such moves might well fuel rising opposition within Sisi’s regime, which became evident in the recent ousting of several senior intelligence and military officials.

The U.S. government has declared its support for “a transparent and credible electoral process” in Egypt. Sisi has pursued the opposite course. We applaud the administration’s decision to withhold $195 million in military assistance due to concerns about human rights violations and harassment of American and Egyptian non-governmental organizations. This sham election only serves to underline the concerns raised by Congress in legislation, which calls for withholding 15 percent of assistance unless the government of Egypt is “taking effective steps to advance democracy and human rights,” including “protecting freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.” Egypt under Sisi has moved aggressively in the opposite direction.

The U.S. government needs to stand privately and publicly for the right of Egyptians to enjoy basic human rights as well as to choose their leaders in a free and fair electoral process, as laid out in their own 2014 constitution. Not only are these core values, but they are critical to building stability and prosperity in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation.


The Working Group on Egypt (a bipartisan group of foreign policy specialists formed in 2010)

Elliott Abrams
Council on Foreign Relations*

Michele Dunne (co-chair)
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Jamie Fly
German Marshall Fund for the United States

Reuel Gerecht
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies

Amy Hawthorne
Project on Middle East Democracy

Neil Hicks
Human Rights First

Robert Kagan (co-chair)
Brookings Institution

Stephen McInerney
Project on Middle East Democracy

Tom Malinowski
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Sarah Margon
Human Rights Watch

Tamara Wittes
Brookings Institution


* Members participate in their individual capacity; institutional affiliations are provided for purpose of identification only.


Photo Credit: Chief Mass Communication Specialist James E. Foehl/U.S. Navy and