Don't Cut Egypt Any Slack on Human Rights
AS the April 12 date for an international conference on the permanent extension of the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) approaches, the Clinton administration finds itself indiscriminately bargaining on all issues in hopes of securing a majority vote.
So far the United States seems to have secured only 75 of the 86 votes required to permanently extend the treaty. One of the countries that the US is trying to persuade is Egypt.
The Egyptians have repeatedly said they will not sign unless Israel, a major nuclear power, signs -- or at least promises to sign -- at a specific future date. The Israelis have made no commitments and the Egyptians remain unpersuaded.
Because of Egypt's ability to enlist the support of other Arab states, its refusal to sign could derail the NPT's permanent extension. But instead of pressuring Israel to at least promise to ratify the treaty in the future, and thus satisfy Egypt's minimum demand, the US may end up making concessions to Egypt on an equally important issue: human rights.
President Hosni Mubarak will be in Washington on April 3. He has hinted that the Egyptian government will sign if the NPT is not to be permanent. He also has indicated he is willing to bargain.
Two key points trouble Egyptians in their relations with the US: aid and human rights. Egypt would like to use its NPT signature as a bargaining chip to gain concessions from the US related to the continuity of the $2.1 billion Egypt receives in annual aid from Washington. With the new Congress and an anti-foreign aid mood in the American public, Egypt's government is nervous about the future.
President Clinton may assure Mr. Mubarak that US aid to Egypt will continue. But certain US conditions should be imposed on this aid, much of which now ends up in the pockets of Mubarak's cronies and also helps to support Egypt's elaborate security system. Egypt should be accountable for how it spends this money. With the exception of the Cairo elite very few Egyptians know their country receives this huge sum from the US, simply because so little has been done to aid Egypt's poor.
Mubarak is also likely to ask the US administration not to criticize Egypt's human-rights record. If Mr. Clinton bargains on this issue, the outcome could be disastrous. According to human-rights reports, including the 1994 State Department report, Egypt holds some 30,000 political prisoners. These prisoners are routinely abused and tortured. Many Egyptians die in police custody before they receive any trial. The latest victim was the lawyer Abdel Harith Madani, whom the police took into custody for representing Islamists in court.
Furthermore, according to the most recent Human Rights Watch Report, the Egyptian government also takes relatives of suspected Islamists as hostages until the targeted persons appear. Children have been tortured to extract confessions from their fathers.
If Clinton makes concessions on human rights, he would give Mubarak a carte blanche to continue a campaign of eradicating villages and burning sugar cane fields in southern Egypt, where the government claims Islamic militants are hiding.
SO far the Egyptian government has failed to account for its role in the disappearance of human-rights activist and former Libyan foreign minister Mansur Kikhiya. Mr. Kikhiya's wife, an American citizen who lives in the US with her American children, suspects that her husband was kidnapped from Egypt by Muammar Qaddafi's men and that the Egyptian police facilitated the kidnapping.
The same fate could await all human-rights advocates who travel to Egypt. Emboldened by the mere prospect of human-rights concessions from the US, the government has begun harassing the families of Egyptian-born American citizens critical of the regime's human-rights record.
Mubarak's argument that Israel should make a commitment to sign the treaty is valid. Israel should be persuaded to make such a commitment. But Clinton should also persuade Mubarak to improve his regime's human-rights record.
Instead of trading the rights and lives of Egyptians for the continued nuclear supremacy of Israel in its region, the American administration has the leverage to pressure both governments to make concessions. Nuclear nonproliferation and human rights should not be mutually exclusive.