“In recent years, independent civil society groups have been the target of a concerted government effort to silence their voices and limit their ability to operate,” notes a letter that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and 71 others signed. “Minority groups, including religious minorities and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community have been the targets of discrimination and violence. Independent media organizations have been shuttered and dozens of journalists, bloggers and citizens have been jailed for their speech.”
Authorities in September arrested at least seven people who waived a rainbow flag during a Cairo concert that featured Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay lead singer who publicly advocates for LGBT rights.
Advocacy groups have said dozens of LGBT Egyptians have been arrested in recent months, with authorities forcing many of them to undergo so-called anal tests to determine whether they engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Egyptian lawmakers in October introduced a bill that would criminalize the country’s LGBT community.
The lawmakers in their letter specifically ask Pence to tell Egyptian officials that the “arrest, harassment and incitement against LGBT individuals inside Egypt must cease immediately, the individuals in detention must be realized and the government should oppose any laws that seek to criminalize the speech or activities of the LGBT community.” They also urge Pence to raise the persecution of journalists, efforts to crackdown on non-governmental organizations and other human rights issues.
“For decades American foreign policy has been based on the promotion of our values of freedom, equality and right to democratic representation,” reads the letter. “We have enjoyed a long and fruitful partnership with the government and people of Egypt and we very much support this continued relationship.”
“However, the close U.S.-Egypt relationship is at risk as long as the government of Egypt engages in widespread violations of internationally recognized civil and human rights,” it adds.
State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are among those who urged the Egyptian government to end its crackdown. The White House has not publicly commented on it.
Pence was scheduled to travel to Egypt and Israel this week. His office on Monday announced he has postponed the trip until January because of the final vote on a tax bill that is expected to take place in Congress this week.
President Trump’s announcement earlier this month that the U.S. would officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked immediate condemnation among the Palestinians and outrage throughout the Arab world. Militants with an affiliate of the so-called Islamic State on Nov. 24 killed more than 300 people at a mosque in the Egyptian town of Bir al-Abed that is located in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
The massacre is the deadliest terrorist attack in modern Egyptian history.