US lawmakers say that thousands of people have been ‘unjustly’ detained since a 2013 coup overthrew Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Lawmakers in the US are calling on Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el Sisi to release political prisoners, including many who have been detained since the 2013 military coup.
Upwards of 40,000 political prisoners are being held in the country’s prison, the bulk of which are supporters of the late President Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in the coup by Sisi.
Many remain in detention without charge and others have been jailed for charges including sedition, and terrorism, which human rights groups say are without substance.
A petition filed by 55 Democrat politicians, and the independent Bernie Sanders, said: “These are people who should never have been imprisoned in the first place.”
The push comes amid the possibility that November’s election could bring a significant paradigm shift in US politics. Polls seem to indicate that the Democrats could win control of both the House and Senate, as well as the presidency.
Democrat control of Congress and the presidency under Joe Biden, could represent a big break with the obliging policy towards Egypt adopted by incumbent US President Donald Trump.
The Republican leader has referred to Sisi as his ‘favourite dictator’ and made clear that he does not think that it is Washington’s place to tell leaders of other states how they should be running their countries.
‘No more blank checks’
In contrast, Biden has hit out at the Egyptian leader, warning Sisi that there will be no more ‘blank checks’.
There has always been a big disparity between what is said on the campaign trail and what happens after the inauguration ceremony. It is unlikely there will be a significant break in relations with the Egyptian leader, especially given US history in the region.
However, behind the scenes, should Biden win the election, US diplomats may be charged with applying more pressure on the Egyptians to repair their human rights records.
Such a path would be similar to the Obama doctrine of outward support for dictators combined with behind the scenes pressure.
The approach did not win the former US president a lot of fans among Middle Eastern leaders but as Washington’s backing is likely to remain coveted, it may bring about some - minor at least - concessions among such regimes.