Signature of the Egyptian government on the EU-Egypt European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan was aspired to contribute to taking concrete steps towards fostering democracy and human rights in Egypt; nevertheless, the situation on the ground was that 2007 – the year in which the Action Plan was approved – witnessed further retrogression that was especially set forth in the European Parliament resolution of January 2008. The whereases of the resolution described 2007 to be a year of dramatic deterioration of human rights in Egypt. The deterioration was furthered by additional evidence, perhaps most apparent of which were the sharp reaction of the Egyptian authorities that reached the extent of considering the resolution adopted by the European Parliament an intervention in Egypt’s internal affairs. As a reaction to this resolution, Egypt’s participation in the meetings of the sub-committee for political consultations with the European Union (EU) has been suspended; not to mention other unjustified procedures.
In this context, human rights organizations signatories to this memorandum have received the report prepared by the European Commission in order to be informed with the goals achieved under the frameworks of the Neighborhood Agreement and the Action Plan.
The organizations regret to indicate that the report lacked material identification of human rights problems in Egypt, neglected greatly the views of the Egyptian organizations and disregarded many needs for concern expressed clearly in the resolution adopted by the European Parliament.
The report’s treatment of the constitutional amendments, for instance, does not pay due attention to the vast powers enjoyed by the executive authorities and which give them almost absolute control over the legislative and judicial ones. The report settles for indicating the powers of the Parliament in monitoring the budget and withdrawing confidence from the government, despite the fact that such powers are futile as long as the president of the republic – the head of the executive authority – can, at any time, dissolve the Parliament!!
When the report of the European Commission stops at the causes for concern towards the counter-terrorism amendments, it only suffices with indicating the fears related to the powers of bringing terrorism cases before exceptional courts meanwhile neglecting the consequences of the amendments with respect to granting security agencies exceptional authorities to control constitutional privileges of freedom and personal safety as well as to control the sanctity of the private life; a matter practically allowing the integration of the exceptional powers set forth by virtue of the emergency law into the law currently being covertly set to combat terrorism. Accordingly, the statement “constitutional amendments pave the way for the termination of the state of emergency” lacks objective identification, because in reality it changes it from being an incidental state to being a permanent one.
Although the European Commission has sufficient reports and analyses of Egyptian human rights organizations, political parties, various civil community efficiencies and the media to comprehend the significance of excluding judges from supervising over polling stations during general elections and although it has sufficient analyses of the deficiencies of the Egyptian election laws and their manifestation during the exercise of the Shura Council – Egypt’s upper chamber of Parliament – elections of the preceding year, the report avoided drawing upon the serious measures needed to be undertaken concerning the problems of political participation and settled for indicating that ambiguity yet surrounds the nature of the administrative structure of the recently formed electoral committee and the nature of the authority delegated to its members. Moreover, the report did not even remotely refer to the opportunities of holding real competitive presidential elections in light of the amendments of Article 76 of the Constitution.
While the report paid heed to setting up a National Committee on Transparency and Integrity under the framework of what it described as supporting the efforts of combating corruption and enhancing transparency and accountability in public affairs, it did not even touch upon the actual means of combating corruption, at a time where extremely tight restrictions still stand on the right to access information and documents, detention punishments still threat newspaper journalists and anchormen, major legal restrictions surround civil community institutions and, over and above, executive authorities exercise control over the Parliament and intervene in the application of justice.
Even though the act of torture is vastly exercised in Egypt systematically and routinely as indicated by reports – local and international, the European Commission report concludes that detaining a number of law enforcement officers reflects a degree of determination on part of the authorities to deal with the practices of torture and mistreatment; a matter contradictory even with the reports of the National Council for Human Rights! The Council’s fourth and (latest) annual report states that: the phenomenon (i.e, torture) has been emergent for quit some time and if it has not been growing then at least it has not been dwindling. Despite all the state-announced policies and programs on disseminating the culture of human rights between policemen, it is realized that investigating and sentencing torture-committing suspects is still slow. Furthermore, the legislative framework has loopholes that allow for escaping from the punishment; in addition, preventive sentences relevant to the graveness of the crime are rarely issued and the state has not, to date, considered significant recommendations made by non governmental organizations (NGOs) and by the National Council for Human Rights to plug such loopholes. Sufficient reaction with international mechanisms to eliminate the phenomenon is also absent, where till now the state refuses to consult the decision of the United Nations on the matter of torture (page 20 of the Arabic copy of the report).
The report even paints a pretty picture with respect to freedom of association, with the exception of the reference to the fact that a “live discussion!” was held concerning the trials of independent and registered newspaper journalists which resulted in the issuance of sentences of detention and heavy fines. Meanwhile, the report fails to mention the continued exercise of governmental monopoly over audiovisual media (especially the news media) and the state-owned papers, nor does it mention the restrictions imposed on the freedom of publishing papers, the control exercised over satellite broadcasting licenses, the legislative structure capable at any point in time of shutting down all media channels and the limitations placed on positive development represented in the variation of the media referred to in the report.
Nowhere in the report come the problems of freedom of religion in Egypt, this was expressed by stating the crucial development underlined in the sentence ruled by the Supreme Administrative Court concerning the Baha’is; meanwhile, the problem, as defined by the European Parliament in its resolution, also includes not only the Copts but also different cults, creeds and schools of Islamic jurisprudence like Shi’ah and Sunna (for example Qur’anis). Furthermore, the problems of religious minorities are not only confined to religion but rather extend to comprise institutional exercises of discriminatory nature, sanctify religious zealousness and inflict major harm on academic freedoms and freedom of the media; a matter observed rightly by the resolution of the Parliament.
Within the framework of the abovementioned, Egyptian organizations should be able to understand their government’s endeavor to burnish its image by saying that it has added a formal nature to the aspects of human rights in Egypt. Nevertheless, it is unjustified that the European Commission in turn repeats such allegations for which it has found no correspondence in reality other than in further practices contradictory to the respect for human rights enshrined not only in the resolution of the European Parliament or the reports of NGOs but also in the reports the National Council for Human Rights established by the state and for which it has the sole right to appoint the members thereof.
Finally, Egyptian human rights organizations see in this report an indication that the opportunities for enhancing human rights in Egypt, under the framework of the European Neighboring Policy (ENP), are somewhat dwindling, due to the absence of the political will not only of the Egyptian government to keep its promises but also of the European Commission which prefers slight political interests over aspects of respect for and further valuing of human rights; in addition to the absence of a detailed assessment mechanism necessary for the follow-up on the implementation of the Action Plan and which includes specific and clear indicators for measuring the state’s commitment to its obligations and for which it receives generous financial aid.
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