By Coptic Solidarity –
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi hosted an event in the New Administrative Capital on September 11, 2021 concerning the launch of Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights (2021 – 2026). Mr. el Sisi touted this strategy as the first “integrated strategy that promotes the principles of the new republic and Egypt’s development vision.”
Certainly, any initiative to enhance the dire human rights situation in Egypt is most welcome. If the protection and promotion of human rights only depended on positive rhetoric, then Egypt’s new human rights strategy would appear to be positive. Below, Coptic Solidarity has provided a review of President el-Sisi’s speech, expressing our critique of this plan and concluding thoughts.
To view President el-Sisi’s complete speech with Coptic Solidarity critiques interspersed, please view the PDF. Below we have included Coptic Solidarity’s conclusions and recommendations.
COPTIC SOLIDARITY CONCLUSIONS
Coptic Solidarity welcomes any initiative aimed at improving human rights conditions in Egypt, provided that it is genuine and is linked to specific and prompt actions, coupled with quantifiable benchmarks.
However, president el- Sisi’s speech and the propaganda-type event where it was delivered is – as demonstrated above – clearly aimed at “foreign consumption.” Given the heightened level of international criticism of Egypt’s harrowing human rights record, it appears that Mr. el – Sisi has been (ill-)advised by his aids and public relations companies to mount this show, use progressive buzzwords that appeal to a Western audience, and make vague promises for the future—all while keeping his brutal policies of repression intact.
As CIHRS recently commented, “The country’s abysmal human rights situation is the consequence of brazen disregard for the rule of law, including a lack of political will on the part of the president to respect human rights. President el-Sisi has repeatedly expressed his contempt for universal human rights enshrined in international conventions ratified by Egypt, citing Egyptians’ supposed lack of human rights culture and awareness relative to Westerners”
When president el-Sisi refers to this “luminous” moment in Egyptian history, he is completely out of touch with the reality he has overseen. There has been near shuttering of civil society, the curtailment of free speech and imprisonment of numerous journalists and activists, impunity and increased attacks on the indigenous Copts and their properties, increased trafficking of minority Coptic women, and a revolving system of arrest and detention of many thousands of innocent civilians.
One other serious concern is that this strategy document covers a very wide range of domains making human rights, in the traditional sense, very diluted so that they appears marginal and, consequently, abuses—however serious—are considered secondary amidst other socio-economic issues.
We believe that Egypt must first implement the most basic of reforms in order to end state enforced human rights violations. If there is a political will to change course and enact a new strategy of human rights, the least to do would be to take immediate credible goodwill steps, such as:
- Immediately and unconditionally release anyone held for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly; and release others detained arbitrarily, including those held in prolonged pre-trial detention without trial or the possibility to challenge the lawfulness of their detention; cease the practice of charging defendants in new cases based on the same set of facts, commonly called “rotation” (or “recycling”), and protect those in custody from torture and other ill-treatment and ensure their regular access to their families, lawyers of their choosing, and adequate medical care;
- Create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders, including by effectively protecting them from arbitrary arrest, detention and other forms of reprisal or harassment; instructing the public prosecution to close Case No. 173 of 2011; removing all arbitrary measures including travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders and their families; quashing verdicts against human rights defenders including those sentenced in their absence; and removing human rights defenders from the “terrorists list”;
- Amend Law No. 94 of 2015 on counterterrorism, Law No. 8 of 2015 on terrorist entities, Law No.175 of 2018 on cybercrime and Law No. 149 of 2019 on NGOs to bring them in line with Egypt’s international obligations.
- Abolish all “blasphemy” laws (such as Article 98-f of the Penal Code) and immediately end all outstanding court cases.
- Set a clear goal of “legalizing” all outstanding churches and related buildings before the sixth anniversary of the 2016 Church Law.
- Abolish the mention of religion from all official documents, including IDs.
- Start clear steps to turn Al-Azhar back into the religious institution it was for 1000 years before 1961 and integrate its schooling and university branches into the national education system.
- Establish the Anti-Discrimination Commission that was mandated by the 2014 Constitution (Article-53) but never put in place.
- Abolish the 1996 “Hisba” Law, which allows a third party to sue any citizen or entity if it is deemed to be in the public interest.
Photo Credit: Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi launches the National Strategy for Human Rights on 9 September, 2021.