Sisi barters with Europe: Human rights violations in exchange for preventing irregular migration

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi found his way to the summit of Egypt and the member states of Visegrad (Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia), which was held during the past two days in the Hungarian capital Budapest, where he took the opportunity to meet with European countries known for their hostility to immigrants to promote his theories on human rights and irregular migration.

Al-Sisi’s press statements during the summit were sharp, as he appeared angry at the European criticism directed at his regime over human rights violations, the latest of which was the European Parliament’s adoption of a resolution criticising the deteriorating human rights conditions in Egypt, urging a deep and comprehensive review of the European Union’s relations with Cairo, and calling to consider taking restrictive measures against high-ranking Egyptian officials implicated in serious human rights abuses.

Sisi links human rights with illegal immigration

Al-Sisi spoke more than once about unregulated immigration, stressing that his regime succeeded in preventing the exit of any illegal immigration boat from Egypt to Europe, and did not use the migrants’ file as a pressure card, calling on European countries to provide more support to Egypt, and to countries that suffer from unstable conditions that have left its citizens wanting to emigrate. Al-Sisi tried to link irregular migration to human rights, stressing that Egypt’s dealings with migrants came from a “human rights” and a “moral and humanitarian perspective,” and that Egypt does not have refugee camps, but rather leaves refugees living among the general citizens.

The Egyptian president criticised European countries that criticise the human rights situation in his country, stressing that he “does not need someone to tell him that human rights standards in his country have been violated,” because he is responsible for “reviving and preserving 100 million lives, which is not an easy matter.” Al-Sisi called on European countries to adopt a different perspective on human rights, saying: “I imagine illegal immigration as a title that reflects a form of human rights that is missing in our region, but from a different perspective, not only the expression of opinion and political practice, but also many other rights that are not available yet in our area.”

Al-Sisi added: “Are European countries ready to contribute and participate with these countries to improve their political, economic and cultural conditions, so that we can reach a different approach to understanding human rights, which is always a controversial issue between us? I am talking about Egypt, for example, and our European friends. I do not refuse to discuss this issue and talk about it, but from what approach? From the approach that you provide a decent life for 100 million Egyptians?”

Sisi’s fallacies

President Sisi made many inaccurate statements during his speech about human rights and the number of refugees in Egypt, which appear to be deliberate inaccuracies to cover up human rights violations in Egypt. Sisi has repeatedly spoken of the universality of human rights and that they should not be coerced into political and civil rights, but should be expanded to include the right to life, economic and social rights, and dealing with migrants.

First, who limits the concept of human rights to political and civil rights only? All the literature of human rights movements affirms that economic rights and the right to education, housing, and health care are all at the core of human rights. Secondly, Sisi is making the same mistake he is talking about, as he is trying to limit the concept of human rights to economic, social and cultural rights, and exclude political and civil rights from them so as not to receive criticism. Third, if Sisi is sincere about the “comprehensive vision of human rights,” why does he not give Egyptians their political rights as he says he gives them their economic and social rights?

Speaking about irregular migration and refugees, Sisi said that Egypt has “more than 6 million refugees,” a number he often repeats in his statements to show himself as an honest guard at the southern gateway to the Mediterranean, and to send a veiled threat to European countries of the possibility of a tsunami of illegal immigration if the conditions of his system worsened. This is an inaccurate statement and an exaggeration.

Sisi deliberately confuses the definition of a foreigner legally residing and working in Egypt for one reason or another with a refugee as defined by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which is: “Everyone has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, or nationality” or belonging to a particular social group or political group, while he is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or unwilling – because of this fear – to benefit from the protection of his country. Officially, there are no accurate figures for the number of foreigners or refugees in Egypt, as no official body has issued a scientific census on the matter, but evidence indicates that the number of refugees in Egypt, according to the definition of the United Nations, is much lower than Sisi’s claims.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Egypt hosts about 254,000 registered asylum seekers, while the World Bank estimates the number of refugees in Egypt at about 273,000. Assuming that these numbers pertain to registered refugees only, and that there are unregistered refugees, at best it can be said that there are a million or a million and a half refugees in Egypt, while the rest of the foreigners are legal residents and working people who benefit the Egyptian economy.