The arrests beginning last Sunday of EIPR administrative manager Mohammad Basheer, criminal justice director Karim Ennarah and executive director Gasser Abdel Razek came two weeks after they briefed a group of 13 European ambassadors and other diplomats, including representatives of Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and the European Union. After being questioned about the meeting and the organization’s other work, the human rights workers were charged with supporting terrorism and spreading false news.
The sweep added to a crackdown against independent journalists, political activists and civil society organizations that has gone on for months, with more than 900 arrests. Such repression is the distinguishing feature of the Sissi regime, which since coming to power in a bloody 2013 coup against a democratically elected government has imprisoned tens of thousands of Egyptians and tortured, killed or disappeared many thousands more. Congress, which has continued to appropriate more than $1 billion in annual military aid for Egypt, has been losing patience: In October, 56 Democratic lawmakers signed a letter calling on the regime to release those “unjustly detained for exercising their fundamental human rights.”
Mr. Trump, however, has lavished affection on Mr. Sissi, whom he called “my favorite dictator” at a 2019 summit meeting. Last week’s arrests provoked high-level protests from European governments, including Britain’s foreign secretary and the French defense minister. But the Trump administration was characteristically low-key: The only reaction by Friday came in a couple of State Department tweets from mid-level officials, who said they were “deeply concerned.”
Though he won’t take office for another few weeks, Mr. Biden has an opportunity to send a different message. One of his top aides, Antony Blinken, already did so, tweeting that “meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime. Nor is peacefully advocating for human rights.” Mr. Biden should speak out as well, and he should raise the case in any phone call he takes from the Egyptian ruler. He has pledged to revive U.S. support for democracy and human rights around the world. Egypt should be a prime target of that effort.