President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s visit to Paris comes amid the worst crackdown on freedoms in modern Egyptian history. The recent arrest of three members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a member organization of FIDH, and the decision to register two renowned human rights defenders, Mohamed Baqer and Alaa Abdel Fattah, on the terrorist list, are just the latest chapters of Al-Sisi’s crackdown on his own people.
Outrage over the arrest of EIPR members had swept the world like wildfire, from the United Nations Secretary-General to actress Scarlett Johansson, the French authorities, and the incoming US administration. On December 3, we learned that three EIPR members, our comrades, were released after three weeks of anguish. The charges against them of “joining a terrorist group”, “using a social media account to spread false news” and “spreading false news” have yet to be dropped.
Two lessons can be drawn from these recent developments: the first, that strong, coordinated, unified international pressure works. The second: we are still at the mercy of President Al-Sisi.
Never in the history of modern Egypt have there been so many lawyers, human rights activists and trade unionists arrested for exercising their fundamental rights, whether for expressing an opinion, attending a meeting, peacefully demonstrating or quite simply, for carrying out their professional obligations as lawyers, journalists, or doctors.
Behind the destruction of a vital social fabric looms an authoritarian state, ruled by a military junta unwilling to engage in dialogue with its citizens. Mass executions, enforced disappearances and widespread torture are the only tools used by the Sisi government to interact with its citizens. The Egyptian justice system has been called a “mockery of justice” by the United Nations. Not to mention attacks on the rights of women, LGBTI + people, rampant corruption. and the militarization of the economy. The stability of Egypt in the region is weakened by the these many violations of fundamental principles and rights.
The crackdown orchestrated by President Al-Sisi is widely documented by NGOs, journalists and civil society as a whole. Western states are complicit in this crackdown; including France, which sells surveillance equipment to Egypt that may have been used to track down opponents, and Sherpa armored vehicles and Renault MIDS military vehicles seen in the streets of Cairo in 2013. Two years ago, our organizations documented a possible use of French weapons in human rights violations.
A recent parliamentary report recognized the risks posed by arms contracts signed with the Egyptian government, mistakes long denounced by NGOs. Elected representatives of the majority were also moved by the fate of political prisoners in Egypt. The practices of successive French governments towards the Egyptian president raises questions even in the circles closest to power.
Today, President Al-Sisi’s repressive machine continues to operate, and will continue to do so as long as the country’s army is equipped, as long as economic aid is paid, and as long as the “dangerous terrorists” (human rights defenders) remain locked up.
If the French response was to roll out the red carpet for Al-Sisi in gratitude for freeing three people who should never have spent a minute in detention, and while over 60,000 others continue to languish in prison, it would be tantamount to a green light to the Egyptian government, which will see that repression has a very low political cost.
France must pose as a champion of rights.
Mr. Macron, you in exchange for this visit to Paris and above all, demand the release of prisoners of conscience. You must suspend economic and military cooperation until the human rights situation improves. Otherwise, France will have allowed President Al-Sisi shine in the streets of Paris while human rights plunge into darkness in Egypt.
- Alice Mogwe, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
- Malik Salemkour, President of the League for Human Rights
- Bahey Eldin Hassan, director and co-founder of the Cairo Institute for the Studies of Human Rights (CIHRS), in exile in France after being threatened with death and sentenced to eighteen years in prison in absentia for terrorism charges by an Egyptian court
Photo: Human rights activists demonstrate during an official visit of the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to France.
Originally published in French: Le Monde
This post is also available in: العربية