False promise: Human rights strategy turns ink on paper

The microphones fell silent and the Egyptian newspapers dried up, after the US administration decided its position on the human rights issue and decided to deprive the Egyptian government of financial aid amounting to $130 million. The was despite the fact that the US Senate last Tuesday, September 14, decided to freeze $300 million of military funds annually allocated to the Egyptian army, amounting to about $1,300 billion, after accusing the regime of crushing freedom of expression and systematically committing aggression against human rights.

This was to deny Sisi the aid and weapons that this notorious regime exploits to prosecute and imprison activists, but the US administration turned around by withholding only $130 million. The US administration grabbed the baton in the middle, after US President Biden threatened in his first direct message to the regime in July that he would not give “Trump’s favourite dictator” a blank cheque to continue his aggression on freedoms, imprisoning activists, and threatening democratic principles.

The silence of the media was surprising and comprehensive. During the past three days, any statements, dialogues or comments about the American decision disappeared from newspapers and channels. Rather, all media outlets directed their attention to other local and international affairs without reference to human rights, except for a single article by the head of the Egyptian Association for Human Rights, in which he declared the need to abide by the regime which kept its promises, after the issue was the central issue in all ways for two consecutive weeks.

The Egyptian regime ignited the local media around the clock by announcing the launch of an Egyptian strategy for human rights. President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi revealed its details in a major press conference, declaring that it aims to create a new system that recognises human rights according to its concepts that begin with providing food, water and housing, roads, security and means of education. Although the points that Sisi talked about are basic principles of the right of every human being to a dignified life, his confusion with issues of human rights and the right to life prompted him to talk about his desire to make 2022 the year of civil society in order to enhance participation in political and public life.

The media and the mouthpieces of power considered Sisi’s call to represent progress in what it calls a “new republic.” The 78-page strategy could not withstand the state of public criticism it faced, especially from local human rights organisations, which wondered how a national strategy could be issued without the participation of civil society organisations and parties in formulating its project and texts, which led the regime to organise an extensive campaign.

The repeated words on the tongues of the broadcasters on the television channels, and their contradiction with their previous statements, such as “Human rights go to hell and whoever talks about them is an infidel or an agent” caused widespread mockery on social media, after the same broadcasters came with statements that completely contradict what they mentioned before.

It notes that the government’s campaign to support the regime’s human rights strategy was increasing in pace as the vote on American aid approached in Congress, and it intensified when the time for signing it approached from the American administration, which could object to what was approved by the Senate, and requested, as usual, that the punishment be lifted from Egypt for reasons related to national security, as the US State Department holds the stick in the middle and withholds $130 million, which represents a thunderbolt to the Egyptian regime.

Sisi’s obsession with the decision has led to him having come out several times to defend the state of human rights in Egypt, claiming it is one of the best in the world. The matter prompted him to try to tickle the feelings of the West, by updating it about the freedom of man to choose his religion, wondering how a person remains a Muslim by heredity, and how he has to think about choosing his faith after he reaches maturity.

Although raising these issues concerns a wide sector in the West and the elite of secularists and Arab atheists, they have had little effect, as reports increased in the meantime from international and local human rights organisations, and the liberal media, calling on Sisi to release 65,000 detainees and for a moratorium on executions and death sentences, especially those issued in political cases.

The surprise was that Sisi, who wanted to reassure the international community that he would abide by the principles of human rights, revealed a new plan to build more prisons and set procedures for trying prisoners inside prison headquarters so that there would be no transfer of the prisoner to the courts, claiming that this would relieve them of the burden of moving in deportation vehicles. Sisi forgot that the international organisations that confronted his dangerous practices against prisoners, asked to put an end to pretrial detention, which the Egyptian authorities use, which enables the security authorities to imprison the accused for two consecutive years without submitting cases to the courts or providing supporting evidence showing the necessity of continuing pretrial detention.

Authorities also exploit precautionary measures in rotating defendants in prisons for years or placing them under house arrest as hostages in incomplete cases indefinitely, confiscating the defendants’ property and money, and preventing them from travelling to a country as evidence of indictment in clear cases.

Last Wednesday, Sisi announced the opening of the largest prison complex in Egypt, bringing the number of prisons to 79, of which 36 have been established since 2012. Human rights organisations estimate the number of prisoners and detainees at about 120,000, including 65,000 political prisoners and remand prisoners. Today, the Egyptian courts resumed the presentation of the accused in political cases, after a week-long hiatus, after lifting the ban on activists Esraa Abdel-Fattah, Najad El-Borai, Azza Suleiman, Hossam El-Din Ali and Ahmed Ghoneim, members of the United Group for Lawyers and Legal Consultations and others in the Egyptian Association for the Advancement of Community Participation and the Egyptian Democratic Institute. This was done after a decision made by the investigative judge in the case of foreign funding, but those concerned with the decision confirm that it has not been implemented so far, as Nejad Al-Borai hopes to be allowed to travel to see his wife and grandchildren residing in Dubai, whom he has not seen for six years. The United States had requested the cancellation of Case No. 173 of 2011 and the release of prominent detainees in it, known as “foreign funding,” with the Egyptian regime’s commitment to the decision, but the failure to implement it fully, especially with detainees and those who are prohibited from travelling from the United States, prompted the Biden administration to partially block aid.

At a time when the regime is suffering from a suffocating financial crisis, Biden is trying to control it through more international loans and grants, in light of international pressures to link the loans and financial aid to Egypt with the development of Egypt’s situation, according to the conditions declared by the European Union and declared in international financial institutions such as the Bank and the International Monetary Fund.