Yesterday, August 4, the 17th student seminar on human rights concluded with an open debate on democracy and human rights in Egypt, featuring Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Judge Ashraf al-Baroudi, the president of the Court of Appeals; and Sinai activist Musaad Abu Fagr, recently released from detention. Thirty participants, chosen from over 150 applicants, took part in the seminar where they learned about current human rights issues on the international, regional, and local levels. Most of the participants were Egyptian university students.
The seminar program was based on interactive participation between students and lecturers. Each day included a combination of lectures, training sessions, and applied activities. There was also a day of practical training and a field trip to three human rights organizations (the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, the New Woman Foundation, and the Andalus Center for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies).
During the seminar, participants watched films and engaged in activities for the expression of opinions and ideas about various topics through arts such as painting and theater. Non-traditional educational activities were also included, as well as discussion groups and case studies. As a final project, participants designed a public campaign advocating a right or highlighting a rights violation they had learned about during the seminar. They designed various campaigns on issues such as the right to physical safety, the right to health, children’s rights, women’s rights, and the freedom of opinion and expression. The latter campaign, which focused on laws restricting freedom of expression and prisoners of conscience in Egypt, won the competition as it was deemed the most integrated and well thought out.
The 15-day seminar covered various human rights issues, starting with a broad introduction to human rights and the philosophy behind it as well as an introduction to the most important human rights conventions and the international and regional instruments designed to protect rights. The trainers in these sessions included Mahmoud Qandil, Mohammed Sultan, and Ziad Abdel Tawab, the consultant for the human rights protection program at CIHRS.
In the days that followed, closer attention was given to political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. Three days were devoted to each of these topics, with the participation of activists and trainers Ehab Salam and Mahmoud Murtada. Two days were devoted to women’s rights, during which attorney Azza Suleiman, the president of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, spoke about legal discrimination against women in Egypt. Her talk followed a presentation on women’s rights from the international perspective given by rights activist Mazin Hassan, while Dr. Amal Abd al-Hadi, the director of the New Woman Foundation, discussed violence against women. A separate session, presented by attorney Khaled Ali with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, was devoted to a discussion of the appointment of women as judges at the State Council.
The topics covered in the discussions about civil and political rights included torture and the right to physical safety, presented by Dr. Magda Adli from the Nadim Center; freedom of expression and opinion, presented by attorney and rights advocate Gamal Eid, who is currently on trial in an opinion case; and freedom of religion and belief, presented by activist Ishak Ibrahim with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. There was an open discussion following the latter session on the right to difference and freedom of belief, attended by attorney and rights activist Negad al-Borai. A separate session, featuring attorney and rights activist Tareq Khater, was devoted to a discussion of the emergency law, particularly after its recent renewal, and the ramifications for human rights in Egypt. A different session examined the right of association, in which rights activist Khuloud Saber made a presentation about the university student unions in Egypt as a case study. Ahmed Ragheb spoke in another session on the right to a fair trial.
The discussion of economic and social rights addressed the right to housing and adequate living conditions as a basic human right, putting it in the context of the widespread existence of informal or slum areas in Egypt. Researcher and lecturer Abd al-Mawla Ismail spoke about the topic and offered an in-depth analysis.
The right to health was addressed by physician and activist Alaa Ghanem, and the right to education was discussed by development expert Dr. Emad Siyam. Rahma Rifaat, with the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, took part in a discussion on the right to work and workers’ demands for a minimum wage.
Sameh Fawzi discussed the right to development and geographic marginalization in Egypt, using the examples of the rights of Nubians and Sinai Bedouins. The seminar also touched on collective rights: attorney Hani Hilal addressed the children’s rights while Dr. Alaa Shukrallah spoke about the rights of the disabled.
Towards the end of the seminar, after participants had been familiarized with general human rights issues, a discussion took place on the relationship between human rights and various other fields, such as cinema, literature, and electronic media. Writer Khaled al-Khemeisi, art critic Tareq al-Shennawi, and rights activist Ramy Raoof participated in this session.
The final days of the seminar were devoted to an examination of the role of youth in change and how to transfer what participants had learned to others. Different sessions explored the how-to of advocacy and campaign design, with a presentation by Mahmoud Abd al-Fattah, as well as the new social movements in Egypt and the increasing role of youth in change and successful individual initiatives. This discussion session was attended by Ahmed Maher with the April 6th Movement, Noha Atef, the owner of the blog Torture in Egypt, and Nasser Abd al-Hamid with the National Association for Change, all of whom discussed their experiences and the extent of their impact.
On the final day, participants presented their final projects, and the best one was chosen by a committee composed of program facilitators and the officer in charge of human rights education at the CIHRS. The seminar was concluded with a graduation ceremony in which all participants received certificates.
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