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Is Obama starting to prod Egypt on human rights?

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Ms. Dunne says she does not expect the US to exert serious pressure, such as using aid as leverage to exert pressure for reform. But Biden's soft public chastisement of Egypt could be evidence that President Obama's administration is responding to widespread disappointment that it has largely ignored human rights and democracy promotion, favoring instead stability and progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

That criticism was on display here this week, as a consortium of Egyptian civil society groups released a report detailing violations of the 119 UNHRC recommendations Egypt had already agreed to. They expressed frustration that the West – particularly the US, which for years has sent more foreign aid to Egypt than any country except Israel – seems loath to apply external pressure on Egypt to improve its human rights record. Egypt rejected outright 21 of the Council's 165 recommendations.

“I think the current American administration doesn't care about the human rights issue and about religious freedom in Egypt,” says Emad Gad, an analyst with the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. He says Egypt is adept at pledging reform in arenas such as the Human Rights Council only to then ignore the implementation on the ground.

“This is one of the problems with the Universal Periodic Review” of the Human Rights Council, agrees Moataz El Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, one of the organizations that released the report. “Usually governments like Egypt which do not have the political will to improve human rights situations on the ground, they pay no cost.”

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