Commentary

Egypt Faces Criticism over Human Rights Record

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has recently taken to calling-in to various radio stations to reassure a restive and concerned population that he is aware of their dissatisfaction with government policy. But critics at home and abroad are unlikely to give him the slack he desires. Most continue to highlight the Egyptian regime’s human-rights record, especially regarding the treatment of members of the much-reviled Muslim Brotherhood. There is also great disappointment in the ongoing attacks on the freedom of press and expression. Journalists are pushing for the implementation of a number of constitutional changes that would preserve some of their rights in the face of an ever-encroaching state apparatus, but it is unclear whether this will happen.

According to an AFP report, Human Rights Watch continues to put pressure on the Sisi regime over its human rights violations and the continuing imprisonment of a large number of Muslim Brotherhood members and leaders. The report, published by Al Arabiya, notes that HRW has “accused Egypt’s justice minister of calling for the ‘mass killing’ of members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, which is already facing a brutal police crackdown....HRW urged President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to condemn the remarks, saying they ‘add to a national climate already dominated by anti-Brotherhood rhetoric from state officials and prominent media figures.’...Experts and rights group say that Sisi has installed a regime that is more repressive than that of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak who was ousted in 2011, with a police crackdown targeting not just Mursi supporters but also secularists and leftist activists.”

In light of the mass detentions, Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Soltan calls attention to the fact that the detainees have to face a corrupt and deeply troubled justice system, thus making the need for a thorough restructuring of the judicial system even more immediate: “51 people, including 14 journalists who are guilty only of doing their job, will stand retrial on charges that are punishable by death....For the last for two-and-a-half years, innocent civilians have languished in underground dungeons with no end in sight to their suffering. Each has a story of hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled, of a life waiting to be lived....The retrial tomorrow will likely be just as lengthy as the first, just as politicized, and the outcome will be equally unjust, unless the conscience of the international community is awakened.

But the Muslim Brotherhood has not been the only element of Egyptian society that has come under attack during the Al-Sisi presidency. As Mona El-Nahhas points out in a recent op-ed for the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, Egyptian and international journalist have long complained about the heavy handed tactics employed by the regime against the freedom of the press and expression: “Controversial statements made by Justice Minister Ahmed Al-Zend are being viewed by some observers as revealing government intentions to obstruct a unified draft law for the press and media. The bill was drafted by journalists in September last year. The draft has since been submitted to the cabinet and the presidency....Sources at the Justice Ministry previously stated that three pieces of legislation regulating press and media affairs will be presented to the House of Representatives in a matter of weeks....A meeting was held at the headquarters of the Press Syndicate on 28 January to see which steps were needed to protect the draft. Journalists stressed that they reject any alternative draft law ‘that would be a step in the wrong direction’. They also expressed their readiness to protect their rights as guaranteed in the 2014 Constitution.”

Hatem Maher reports that Sisi for his part has tried to defuse some of the criticism aimed against him and his government’s policies: “Many disgruntled youths are unhappy with what they deem heavy-handed practices by security forces. Scores of Islamist, liberal, and secular activists have been jailed since El-Sisi was elected president in June 2014.Many fell foul of a restrictive protest law as Egypt’s interior ministry cracked down on dissent. El-Sisi repeatedly said he has high regard for human rights but that more pressing issues, such as the frail economy, should be the main source of concern. ‘It’s us who are not able to properly communicate with them [angry youths]. We are the ones who are unable to find common ground. I’m exerting lots of effort in this matter and I’m aware that I will need time,’ he added. ‘Finding the balance between security measures and human rights is a sensitive and delicate issue which requires a lot of effort’.”

Finally, there are some who suggest that Al-Sisi is not being well-served by his government and the state apparatus. According to Daily News Egypt columnist Charl Fouad Al-Masry, “Any ruling regime cannot begin from ground zero, because simply it cannot destroy the pillars of the state overnight and re-build them in the same way it demolished them....The current regime, in the positive sense of the word, restored the concept of a successful state. Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi has been making great efforts on the internal level, despite the challenges of overcoming the obstacles left behind by the Muslim Brotherhood....The images of the president and state institutions are shaken, as information comes out from different sources, making them vulnerable. This happens every day. The state, in the political and legal sense, should not allow these things to slide, and should firmly rein them in. I believe the state has the ability to do so, unless I have been a hopeless romantic who knows nothing about the state of institutions.”

Emad El-Sayed  builds on this theme in another article for the same Egyptian daily, writing directly to the president, cautioning him that he is “losing many opportunities that you can use to increase your popularity. I can assert that those around you are responsible for that. You did not need to apologize to Islam Guawish or placate the Ultras. You did not need to come out every now and then to justify acts of your men with businessmen. It was possible that all events could be played to your favor if your entourage acted for it....Mr President, reconsider your government. The economic group has no vision. Those in charge of services keep making excuses. So let them leave their chairs for those who can change things. Sit down with the youth and listen to them and to their ideas, for they have many.”


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