In the advent of Human Rights Day, a congressional joint subcommittee hearing was held on the human rights abuses in Egypt. In conjunction with a landmark day focusing on human rights, it seems appropriate to consider the hard-fought victories achieved in the name of personal freedom and respect for human dignity in recent years, many of which were accomplished through concerted congressional support.
At the same time, we must also reflect on the continuing struggles of people around the world who are searching for ways to reach such important goals. Nowhere is this battle more pronounced currently than in Egypt; and nowhere are efforts more needed to guide U.S. policy in defense of human rights than in Congress.
Recently, Egypt’s interim President Adly Mansour and Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi called for a three-day period of mourning to honor the victims of a series of recent attacks on Egyptian military and governmental personnel. Those being remembered include 11 soldiers who died in an apparent suicide attack in North Sinai, a senior security official who was assassinated, and 26 civilians who died when a train collided with two trucks at a railroad crossing.
While these events are most certainly tragic, they are not the only unfortunate incidents that have plagued Egypt in recent days that should garner congressional attention. Nowhere in this government-sponsored time of reflection will you find mention of the pro-Morsi college student killed by security forces during a demonstration on campus in opposition to military control or of the sentencing of 38 students to lengthy prison sentences for “stirring riots” or even of the hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters who have been killed at the hands of government forces in the past several months.
Egypt continues to spiral further and further away from legitimate democratic rule, and those who seek to voice their opposition to what is occurring have found little support emerging from the international community. This is especially true in regards to the baffling individualistic stances of U.S. government officials and the roadblocks placed in the way of congressional legislation which would greatly affect aid given to the Egyptian government based on its adherence to human rights and religious freedom standards. More must be done to cement a coherent policy that evinces the notion that the United States is concerned with the freedom and prosperity of the Egyptian people under a fairly elected democratic government rather than attempting to maintain fractured relations with an authoritarian regime.
Consider the recent actions of Secretary of State John Kerry. While White House officials continue to hint that the military government in Egypt needs to be taken to task for its oppressive and often brutal practices, Kerry publicly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of hijacking Egypt’s 2011 revolution in a bid to mend relations with the current regime. While this is undoubtedly a strategic move to secure U.S. interests in the region, it is disturbingly ironic to consider how America’s chief diplomat is admonishing supporters of the democratically elected government of Egypt, who supposedly hijacked the electoral process, and then supporting the military rulers who blatantly did just that.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.