Mohamed Zaree to the National Council: Dialogue without genuine political will for reform is propaganda intended to mislead local and international communities about human rights progress in Egypt
Mohamed Zaree, the director of the Egypt Program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), attended a panel discussion hosted by the National Council for Human Rights on 10 March 2022 titled “Dialogue between the National Council for Human Rights and civil society organizations in light of the National Strategy for Human Rights.” The discussion focused on topics related to civil society in Egypt including the current NGO law, obstacles to civil work, and recommendations to bolster civil society’s role in the country. While CIHRS commends the National Council for this initiative, it cautions that the repressive practices pursued by the Egyptian government since 2014 have paralyzed the work of NGOs and civil society, especially human rights organizations.
“Human rights organizations should be free to uphold their role, yet in reality most of the attendees today are prohibited from traveling and from accessing their money, as a result of Case no. 173 of 2011, known as a retaliatory case against human rights organizations,” Zaree said as he spoke on the panel. Rights organizations are also stymied by the dilemma of registering under a repressive NGO law, which does not guarantee freedom for civil work, as warned by four United Nations independent experts.
“Any dialogue without a genuine political will for reform is nothing more than a public relations campaign intended to delude the international and local communities into considering that a political breakthrough will occur,” Zaree emphasized during the meeting. “We can say that the human rights situation has not changed since the national strategy was announced, leading us to that consider that there is no political will to respect human rights” in Egypt.
Today’s meeting took place while numerous human rights defenders and civil society professionals are currently facing prison sentences, including Mohamed El-Baqer, Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, Ezzat Ghoneim, Ibrahim Metwally, among others. Rights advocates have faced multiple forms of violations over recent years, including arbitrary arrest over charges of terrorism and spreading false news. Rights lawyers have also been subject to enforced disappearance, torture, and ill-treatment, as exemplified by the cases of urban researcher Ibrahim Ezz El-Din and lawyer Ibrahim Metwally. Incitement to violence, including murder, has been directed at members of the human rights community by state-aligned media professionals and parliamentarians.
Since 2014, CIHRS has repeatedly called for an opening of dialogue with the government on many human rights issues. CIHRS was an active member of the committee preparing the law on NGOs, which was formed by the Minister of Social Solidarity Ahmed El-Borai following the June 2013 events. Nevertheless, the draft law – which had been the law closest to achieving a viable free space for civil work- was ignored by the government.
Human rights defenders in Egypt are also subject to exceptional and lengthy prison sentences, such as Mohamed El-Baqer, who was sentenced to four years in prison while his detention was renewed in another case. Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of CIHRS, was included on the terrorism list and is facing prison sentences in absentia. Many relatives of human rights defenders have been targeted, including Amal Fathy, wife of the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, as well as the family of rights defender Mohamed Soltan, who have been subjected to intimidation, enforced disappearance, prosecution, and imprisonment by the state in retaliation for Soltan’s human rights advocacy. These violations – along with the draconian associations law – have paralyzed the work of NGOs in Egypt, as demonstrated by the closure of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) which had worked for eighteen years before being forced to shutter its activities in Egypt.
Every initiative taken by CIHRS was responded to with more repression from the state, starting with the death threat against CIHRS director Bahey eldin Hassan. Hassan was sentenced in absentia to 18 years in prison in two cases on fabricated charges of spreading false news, and his assets – along with those of CIHRS – were seized by the state. Mohamed Zaree was banned from traveling and faced the seizure of his bank accounts while being subject to smear campaigns and accusations of treason due to his work defending human rights.
In the six months that have passed since the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy, the Emergency Supreme State Security Court has sentenced former parliamentarian Zyad Elelaimy to prison for five years, and journalists Hossam Mounis and Hisham Fouad to four years in prison. The same court also handed down a five-year prison sentence against activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, and four-year prison sentences against human rights defender Mohamed El-Baqer and blogger Mohamed Radwan (known as Oxygen). These rulings were ratified and considered final and not subject to appeal, with the president possessing the authority to reduce or revoke the sentence or request a re-trial – an authority he has yet to exercise. Although President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had announced the end of the state of emergency, less than a week later he ratified new amendments to the penal laws, on combating terrorism and protecting public facilities, which serve to inscribe the state of emergency into national legislation, rendering it permanent.
The role of human rights organizations in promoting human rights requires several parallel steps, as a prerequisite towards reforming the catastrophic situation of human rights in Egypt. These steps are:
- Immediately release human rights defenders detained in Egyptian prisons in relation to their human rights work, provisionally or under finalized sentences, on the basis of fabricated and false charges such as spreading false news or joining terrorist groups
- Immediately close Case no. 173 of 2011 and stop prosecuting human rights defenders in other cases related to broadcasting false news or fabricated accusations of tax evasion. Immediately lift the travel bans and asset seizures against all human rights defenders accused in the case
- Replace the current Law of Associations, which has received widespread international criticism, with the draft law by El-Borai, which was the product of joint dialogue between human rights organizations and the government
- Immediately cease the smear campaigns and accusations of treason launched by the media, whether explicitly state-owned or state-controlled, against human rights defenders
- End the illegal reprisals and acts of intimidation human rights defenders, including car theft and assault, to which human rights defender Gamal Eid was victim, and open a transparent investigation into these practices. End the illegal summoning of women and human rights workers to National Security headquarters, and stop acts of intimidation and threats against them.
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