Sisi’s human rights strategy: A whitewashing attempt

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A few days ago, the Egyptian government launched the first national strategy for human rights, in the presence of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and senior state leaders, amid a standing ovation. The event was promoted as “the beginning of a new era in the state’s handling of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights.”

Al-Sisi spoke positively about human rights “in their comprehensive concept that is not limited to political and civil rights only.” He also shared very progressive ideas about freedom of belief and non-belief, and announced that next year, 2022, will be “the year of civil society.”

Despite this, it does not seem that the launch of this strategy will lead to a serious change in the reality of human rights in Egypt, as all the evidence confirms that the Egyptian regime is moving forward in its path of violating the basic rights of citizens, and that all these words are nothing but a demonstration of its goal to throw dirt in the eyes to hide the reality of the situation.

Wrong diagnosis, wrong treatment

The formation of the committee that formulated the national strategy for human rights reflects its objectives. The committee is headed by the foreign affairs minister, and foreign officials hold important positions in it. This confirms that what it wants to do is address Western circles that have criticised the Egyptian government in recent years because of human rights violations in Egypt.

The committee includes in its membership the Ministries of Defence and Interior, the General Intelligence Service and the Administrative Control Authority, all of which are executive bodies that are not entrusted with developing a human rights strategy, which confirms that human rights in Egypt is primarily a security issue. The paradox here is that the formation of this committee does not include the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights, which is entrusted with the defence of human rights in Egypt, mostly due to the presence of some independent voices in the council, which the regime fears will spoil the “rights wedding.”

Apart from the formation of the committee, no one knows what the new national strategy for human rights has brought, as most of its 78 pages are nothing more than an affirmation of the emphatic and a re-enumeration of the texts of the constitution and the law calling for respect for civil, political, social, economic and cultural human rights, with some objectives. The goals are to be achieved within five years and vary between measurable goals to determine their achievement or not, related, for example, to the issuance of specific legislation or the development of legal mechanisms. Most of the targets are flexible expressions, in a way that it is difficult to measure them or know the criterion for their achievement or not.

Is the problem of human rights in Egypt the lack of constitutional and legal texts on the subject? This was never the problem. Rather, the whole problem is concentrated on the state’s implementation of these texts and their commitment to them. Although the executive branch is responsible for violating human rights in Egypt, there has been no criticism of the practices of state agencies that are mostly contrary to the constitution, laws, and international conventions, and instead criticism has been directed primarily at the people. For example, in the civil and political rights axis of the national human rights strategy, the strategists attributed the challenges of implementing these rights to several factors: either the lack of public awareness or practices of community members and each other, or the lack of public awareness and the lack of legislation, or the lack of public awareness and the need to digitise judicial procedures.

The strategy criticises the citizens’ lack of awareness of the importance of participation in political life, and the weak role of parties, and deliberately ignores that the reason for this is the state’s prosecution of peaceful opposition parties and political activists with all its might, and the “Cell of Hope” in which a number of prominent opposition politicians were arrested because of their efforts to form an electoral alliance. The strategy proposes the wrong treatment for this problem, which is “strengthening the cultural and social environment that supports political parties, and building the capabilities and skills of leadership and organisation of party members in the field of elections,” instead of proposing “stopping security prosecutions of political activists and political parties.”

On the economic and social rights axis, the strategy talked about the weakness of health and education services and the need to improve them, but it did not refer, either closely or from afar, to the government’s lack of commitment to the constitutional allocations for health, education and scientific research, which amount to 10 per cent of the gross national product.

Just a dead letter

Two days after launching the national strategy for human rights and heralding a new era of respect for human rights and freedoms, the State Security Prosecution referred the researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Patrick George Zaki, to trial before the Emergency Court, on charges of “spreading false news at home and abroad” on the basis of an opinion article he published two years ago, after 19 months in pretrial detention. The accusation is based on an article titled “Displacement, Killing, and Narrowing: A Week in the Diaries of Egypt’s Copts,” which Patrick published in July 2019 on the Daraj newspaper website. The article deals with a week in his life as an Egyptian Christian receiving news about violations directed at Egyptian Christians.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights considered that referring Patrick to trial before an exceptional court whose rulings may not be appealed, and with the “charge” of publishing a newspaper article in which he recounts the facts of his life as an Egyptian Christian, after 19 months of pretrial detention without legal justification and without investigations, confirms that the only reason for depriving him of his freedom since his arrest in February 2020 is his legitimate exercise of freedom of expression in defence of his rights and the rights of all Egyptians, especially Copts, to equality and full citizenship.

Following the launch of the strategy, violations are still continuing against the detained political activist, Alaa Abdel Fattah, as he is still imprisoned in solitary confinement in the high-security Scorpion Prison – one of the worst notorious prisons in the Arab world – and is prohibited from communicating with anyone, and even prohibited from his rights to exercise and receive books.

Alaa complained about the deterioration of his psychological condition and his contemplation of suicide, as he told his lawyer that he suffers greatly inside prison in light of the prison administration’s targeting of him for submitting complaints against him because he was tortured, stressing: “I will commit suicide, tell my mother to receive condolences for me.” These are just examples of the human rights situation in Egypt, just two days after heralding a new human rights era, which confirms that Sisi’s human rights strategy is nothing but ink on paper and a show of whitewashing.