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Egypt treats detainees as hostages, uses them to bargain with Biden’s administration, says rights group director

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News briefing: Translation and editing by Committee for Justice

Geneva, December 15, 2020

The Executive Director of Committee for Justice (CFJ), Ahmed Mefrehsaid that Egyptian authorities are treating political detainees in prisons as hostages and exploiting them politically to open room for negotiations with the new US administration, led by the incoming president Joe Biden.

In a statement to the Boston-based international news organization Christian Science Monitor, Mefreh said: “Egypt’s arrest of activists is an implicit message from the regime to the international community, especially the Biden administration, that ‘we have hostages inside Egypt that you care about, therefore you have to put it in your mind that while we can release some, we can still arrest others’.”

The report, published on Friday, addressed the Egyptian regime’s handling of human rights issues, under the Biden administration, which promised radical changes in Middle East policy and to put human rights first, which observers expected would impose on Washington’s Arab allies an adaptation to the new reality to prevent a clash with the new administration.

The newspaper pointed out that despite these expectations, goodwill gestures did not come from Egypt. Instead, Cairo doubled the internal crackdown, betting that common security interests would prevail in any evaluation of Washington’s policies in the region.

The newspaper pointed out that the release of 600 political prisoners by Cairo in November, and the subsequent hiring of a lobbying firm in Washington headed by former Chief of Staff Nancy Pelosi raised hopes that Egypt was prepared to loosen its authoritarian grip to maintain good relations with the White House.

The report added that these hopes were reversed when Egypt arrested members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), days after the organization met with Western diplomats, prompting the US State Department candidate, Anthony Blinken, to express his “concern about the arrests of Egypt” on Twitter, stressing that “Meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights.”

Despite the release of EIPR staff after weeks amid unprecedented international pressure and western media campaigns, the organization and its employees still face legal procedures, and their assets have been frozen.

The newspaper concluded in its report that through intensified crackdown, Egyptian authorities are hedging their bets that Biden, like President Obama before him, will be reluctant to move forward in the field of human rights, especially at a time when the United States is facing crises at home, trying to rebuild alliances abroad.

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