Egyptian-Americans, Critics of Egyptian Government Endangered, Need Protection
(New York, January 6, 2022) – The State Department should act urgently to sanction Egyptian government officials implicated in spying on U.S. based critics of the Egyptian government, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) said today.
On January 6, the Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that it had arrested Pierre Girgis in New York City for acting as a foreign agent of the Egyptian government without registering. DoJ officials stated that Girgis had been operating under the direction and control of Egyptian officials to track and obtain information regarding political opponents of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2018, but they did not identify the Egyptian officials on whose behalf he was spying.
"In the wake of the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi and other attacks on U.S. based critics of Middle Eastern governments, we need to recognize that Egypt's targeted spying on critics here in the U.S. puts them in grave danger of violence and harm," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director for DAWN. "That Egypt has breached our government's trust is the least of it; this is a direct effort to threaten, harass, and intimidate the people of our country, including thousands of Egyptians who have sought asylum from persecution by al-Sisi."
The Department of Justice announced that Gergis acted for the Egyptian government not only to spy on its perceived critics in the United States, but also to "gain access for foreign Egyptian officials to attend law enforcement-only trainings in Manhattan." The Department also stated that the FBI's Counterintelligence Division and New York Field Office are investigating the case, and that Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elinor L. Tarlow and Kyle A. Wirshba for the Southern District of New York and Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division's Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.
DAWN called on the State Department to act immediately to investigate, identify, and sanction the Egyptian government officials implicated in spying on U.S. critics of Egypt under the newly-declared "Khashoggi Ban." The Khashoggi Ban authorizes the State Department to issue travel bans on foreign government officials who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are believed to have been directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities, including those that suppress, harass, surveil, threaten, or harm journalists, activists, or other persons perceived to be dissidents for their work, or who engage in such activities with respect to the families or other close associates of such persons. Family members of such individuals also may be subject to visa restrictions under this policy, where appropriate.
DAWN urged the U.S. government to identify publicly the individuals and agencies in Egypt involved in this spying to ensure protection can be sought from them. DAWN also demanded that the Department of Justice inform those whom the Egyptian government targeted for its spying and provide them with police protection for their security.
"General Sisi has taken a cue from Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman to attack dissidents here in the U.S. and apparently thinks that he can get away with the same sort of brutal thuggery," said Whitson. "Our government's failure to sanction the Saudi Crown Prince is exactly why Sisi thinks he can get away with spying on and harassing critics of Egypt here in the U.S."
On September 13, the State Department approved a new military aid package to Egypt of $1.1 billion, and reduced the amount Congress had conditioned on human rights reforms from $300 million to $130 million. The State Department also limited the conditions on aid to the release of sixteen unidentified political prisoners, while Congress' original hold on aid to Egypt included broader conditions to require civil society reforms and the implementation of laws and policies to improve Egypt's woeful human rights record. Secretary Blinken described the Egyptian government as having "shared interests" with the United States despite the government's widely-documented crimes against humanity and brutal repression, including the ongoing detention, torture, and mistreatment of over 60,000 political detainees.
"What a slap in the face of the American people for General Sisi to be taking handouts from the U.S. government while it secretly spies on people in our country," said Whitson. "What more will it take for our government to act responsibly and end its support to brutal, cheating dictators who stab our own government in the back and undermine the security of our people?"
DAWN has urged the United States to comply with U.S. laws restricting military sales to abusive governments and to end all military transfers to the Egyptian government in light of its gross violations of human rights. The United States violates its own human rights obligations by providing military support to the Sisi government, contributing to human rights abuses in Egypt.