After Biden victory, al-Sisi hears different messages from the world

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World leaders have sent various new messages over the past two weeks to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi; these new, different messages coincided with the announcement of the victory of US President-elect Joe Biden.

Al-Sisi would not have heard messages like these over the past four years, as “Donald Trump’s favourite dictator,” especially as he was dealing based on this saying, violating human rights in Egypt in a way that the country had not seen before. Biden, in his tweet in July when he said that there would be no more blank cheques for Trump’s favourite dictator, sought to open fire on al-Sisi and his escalating violations.

These messages are based on Biden’s previous pledge to revive efforts to support the United States for democracy and human rights worldwide, stressing the need for Egypt to be a primary target in those efforts. According to the Washington Post, the world sees al-Sisi as “the most repressive president in Egypt’s modern history.” Still, he was protected by Trump, who overlooked al-Sisi’s human rights violations and suppressed his opponents in Egypt. The newspaper said that the Trump administration has long tolerated or turned a blind eye to al-Sisi’s crimes, except when it comes to American citizens. However, this protection has begun to fade away now, with Trump losing his post.

The first of these messages were from one of Biden’s top aides, Anthony Blinken, who recently sent “really different messages” to al-Sisi when, in a recent tweet, he objected to the arrest of the CEO and two other senior EIPR employees. Blinken, who has served as Biden’s national security and foreign affairs advisor, since he was Vice-President for Barack Obama, tweeted that “meeting with foreign diplomats is not a crime, and peaceful human rights activism in support of human rights is not a crime either.”

The Washington Post stressed the need for Biden to clarify that his next administration will be different, speak publicly, and raise the issue of detainees as soon as he receives any phone call from the Egyptian ruler. Egyptian authorities and the media remained silent about the harsh criticism levelled by several Democratic Party leaders and the current regime’s prominent American personalities. The message was not from Blinken alone, but several Democratic Party leaders and prominent American personalities issued statements condemning Egypt’s arrests, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Chris Coons, who is close to Biden and who is rumoured to be running for the State Department.

Sanders, the former Democratic candidate in the US presidential elections, called on the Biden administration to take a “clear stance towards Egypt,” and to assert that America would support democracy, not dictatorship. The Democratic senator also shared a report by the American newspaper, the New York Times, about the arrest of the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights in Egypt entitled “Egypt arrests the leader of human rights … and the continued repression of opponents,” on his official Twitter account. Sanders wrote, commenting on the report: “The recent wave of arrests in Egypt of courageous human rights defenders from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is angering. The next administration must make it clear to Egypt and all countries that the United States will once again support democracy, not dictatorship.”

Similar messages were made public for the first time by the United Nations until the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement detailing the facts of the arrest and interrogation of the initiative’s members. The statement described the use of anti-terrorism laws and vague accusations to criminalise human rights defenders’ work as “inconsistent with Egypt’s international obligations towards international human rights law.” The messages also came from other countries of international weight, such as Canada, Germany, France, Italy, and Ireland, where they expressed in separate statements their grave concern about these arrests. The statement stressed the need for everyone to be free to exercise their human rights “without fear of arbitrary arrest.”

The New York Times stated that the activists working for the initiative joined the thousands of opposition figures, demonstrators, and activists who are already in prison. According to what the newspaper says, the Egyptian Initiative is one of the few remaining organisations that openly defend basic freedoms in Egypt, as the al-Sisi government has silenced most of the opposition over the past six years. These letters prompted Egypt, represented by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to respond to these letters by saying that “the Egyptian Initiative is registered as a company and engages in other activities in violation of the provisions of the law,” refusing to interfere in Egyptian affairs and influence the course of investigations.

However, the founder of the initiative and its board of directors, Hossam Bahgat, considered the Egyptian response to “spreading false news” by the ministry a punishment for the organisation’s work and activities. Bahgat indicated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had previously boasted after the Private Labour Law was issued that it was free of imprisonment penalties, and now it justifies imprisoning employees of a human rights institution in violation of the articles of this law. He emphasised that the initiative is a 100 per cent legal entity, registered as a study and consulting company at the General Investment Authority, and has a commercial and tax registry, and all its taxes are paid, and all its employees are subject to labour and social insurance laws, in addition to the fact that it has been operating under the umbrella of Egyptian laws for 18 years.