An Open Letter to the Obama Administration on Egyptian State Violations of Human Rights

In an unprecedented statement, over 40 senior academics including more than a dozen former MESA presidents, have signed a letter to U.S. President Obama. Rarely, if ever, has such a group of such high-level academics has ever come together on a single issue before, including the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
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In an unprecedented statement, over 40 senior academics including more than a dozen former presidents of the most important professional association for scholars of the Arab and larger Muslim world, the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), have signed a letter to U.S. President Obama and Secretary State John Kerry calling for the Administration to demand the immediate release of blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah and other political detainees in Egypt, for Egyptian officials to suspend the protest law of 2013 and end the repression of free speech rights guaranteed by the Egyptian Constitution and international law, and end the regime of violence, including torture and extra judicial execution, that still governs Egypt after the electoral victory of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as President. Rarely, if ever, has such a group of such high-level academics has ever come together on a single issue before, including the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Underscoring the importance of the letter, only days after it was first published Secretary of State Kerry visited Cairo where he announced a full resumption of military and other aid, completely disregarded human rights concerns and the ongoing authoritarianism in Egypt. The Egyptian government responded by arresting more protesters and, just yesterday, sentencing three al-Jazeera journalists to a minimum of seven year prison terms in a trial that exceeded Abdel Fattah's trial in its kafkaesque proportions.

Even as Iraq is engulfed by violence and Syria continues its brutal civil war, these scholars and officials, with literally centuries of experience in Egypt and the broader region between them, warn that growing political violence in Egypt epitomized by the recent reimprisonment of Alaa Abdel Fattah and ongoing rights abuses, risks permanently destabilizing Egypt, and with it, the region more broadly. Especially in light of the actions of the Egyptian government after Kerry's visit, they reiterate their call to the Obama administration to suspend non-humanitarian military, security, political and economic cooperation with Egypt until the government heeds these demands.


To President Obama and Secretary Kerry,

We, the undersigned academics and policy-makers condemn the intensifying assault on basic political and civil rights in Egypt, most recently epitomized by the June 11 sentencing of two dozen activists associated with the No to Military Trials movement, including well-known blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, to fifteen years imprisonment.

The sudden conviction in absentia and incarceration of activists while police blocked them and their attorneys from entering the courtroom on a day scheduled for lawyers' briefs, is the latest and most glaring example of the systematic violations of internationally recognized rights of assembly, of freedom of expression, and of due process characterizing the political environment in Egypt today.

They are accompanied by the ongoing and widespread use of deadly violence by security forces on Egyptian citizens exercising their internationally recognized right to protest, the application of mass death sentences after severely flawed and politicized judicial processes, and the use of torture, long-term detention without trial and other forms of mistreatment of detainees by the government.

Such practices and policies undermine whatever positive impact elections and other formal democratic processes may bring to Egypt. Instead, they lay the foundation for deepening marginalization of ordinary citizens, intensifying social and political conflict, and ultimately even more violence. As we watch with great alarm the descent of Iraq into a potential civil war, and the even greater carnage next door in Syria, we note that beneath the sectarian and ethnic tensions considered to be driving these conflicts lie the long-term denial of basic rights to citizens, systematic corruption, and violence by governments against their peoples--dynamics that continue to define Egypt's political environment even after last month's Presidential elections.

The present regime of political violence, which began with and remains most fiercely directed against the Muslim Brotherhood, is increasingly focused on silencing all remaining revolutionary voices associated with the January 25-February 11, 2011 uprising. As we have seen in so many other countries, these policies require the demonization of more and more citizens as "terrorists," "traitors" and "enemies," against whom all manner of violence and repression are justified. In Egypt as elsewhere the end result of such policies, which have occurred with the acquiescence and even support of Egypt's regional and international allies and patrons, will inevitably be the disintegration of bonds of common citizenship and intensifying of social, political and economic conflict.

Such an outcome is unfolding in Iraq, as it did in Syria before it -- and closer to Egypt, in neighboring Libya. It is also increasingly and dangerously evident in the Sinai Peninsula. The costs to Egypt of such destabilization, and through it regional and even global security and stability, are almost impossible to calculate. Yet the steps necessary to prevent such an outcome are clear.

The Egyptian government must immediately release not only Alaa Abdel Fattah and other protesters most recently sentenced in absentia, but all political prisoners and detainees. At the same time, it must end the politicization of judicial proceedings, halt the still rampant use of torture and other forms of violence and mistreatment of Egyptian citizens, and suspend the protest law issued on November 24, 2013, whose severe restrictions on the right of assembly and political expression violate core principles of both the Egyptian Constitution and international law. Such measures are the sine qua non for any meaningful transition to democratic accountability in Egypt.

We call upon President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and the Administration in all its capacities, to demand these moves and, moreover, to suspend normal cooperation with the Egyptian government -- including the provision of military aid or sales and non-humanitarian economic assistance -- until such practices are in place. Ignoring or excusing gross violations of fundamental human rights in Egypt, particularly with other countries in the region in the midst of dangerous political meltdowns, cannot be considered constructive or sound policy, or justified on the grounds of realpolitik. They will serve only to produce enmity, violence, destabilization and chaos on an ever-wider scale across Egypt, and through it, the region.

The world community, and particularly Egypt's most important ally, the United States, cannot afford to sit by while this happens.


Nezar AlSayyadDirector, Center for Middle Eastern Studies University of California, Berkeley

Paul AmarUniversity of California, Santa Barbara

Barbara AswadWayne State UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Beth BaronGraduate Center and City College, City University of New YorkDirector, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center, Graduate Center, CUNYEditor, International Journal of Middle East Studies

Joel BeininStanford UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Sheila CarapicoCoordinator, International Studies ProgramUniversity of Richmond

Juan ColeDirector, Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies, University of MichiganPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Elliott CollaGeorgetown University

Michele DunneCarnegie Endowment for International Peace

Alexander E. ElinsonDirector of the Hunter College Summer Arabic ProgramHunter College of The City University of New York

John L. EspositoGeorgetown UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Michael GilsenanDirector, Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern StudiesNew York University

William GranaraDirector, Center for Middle Eastern StudiesHarvard University

Frank GriffelChair, Council on Middle East Studies (CMES)Yale University

Bassam HaddadGeorge Mason UniversityEditor, Jadaliyya

Yvonne HaddadGeorgetown UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Sondra HaleOutgoing Director, Center for Near Eastern StudiesUniversity of California, Los AngelesCoordinator, California Scholars for Academic Freedom

Mervat HatemHoward UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Steven HeydemannGeorgetown University

Eric Hooglund,Editor, Middle East Critique

Nubar HovsepianChapman University

Michael C. HudsonGeorgetown UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Hunter, Robert E (Amb. ret.)

Hunter, ShireenGeorgetown University

Adel IskandarGeorgetown University

Toby JonesRutgers University

Suad JosephUniversity of California, DavisPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Kimberly KatzTowson University

Amb. Richard Kauzlarich (ret.)School of Public Policy, George Mason University

Mark LeVineUniversity of California, IrvineCenter for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University

Ann LeschThe American University in CairoPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Zachary LockmanNew York UniversityPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Kevin W. MartinIndiana University

Ellen McLarneyDuke University

Norma Claire MoruzziDirector, International Studies ProgramUniversity of Illinois at Chicago

Karen PfeiferSmith College

William QuandtUniversity of VirginiaPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Hesham SallamStanford University

Laila Shereen SakrUniversity of Southern California

Jillian SchwedlerHunter College, CUNY

Sherene SeikalyDirector, Middle East Studies CenterThe American University in Cairo

Jonathan ShannonHunter College

Samer S. ShehataUniversity of Oklahoma

Jeannie SowersUniversity of New Hampshire

Joshua StacherKent State University

Christopher StoneHunter College, CUNY

Ted SwedenburgUniversity of Arkansas

Chris ToensingEditor, Middle East Report

John O. VollGeorgetown University

Jessica WinegarNorthwestern University

I William ZartmanThe Johns Hopkins University--SAISPast President, Middle East Studies Association

Stephen ZunesUniversity of San Francisco

Affiliations are provided for identification purposes and should not suggest institutional endorsement of this letter.

For media inquiries, please send an email to

[This letter was modified slightly at the request of the signatories]

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