Independent Egyptian Rights NGOs: Eliminating Prospects of Peaceful Transfer of Power Risks Pushing Egypt to the Verge of a Precarious Transformation

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

In a memo sent on Tuesday, March 13th, seven independent Egyptian rights organizations warned the UN Secretary-General of the alarming deterioration of the human rights situation and the risk of pushing Egypt to the verge of a precarious transformation.  With the violent closure of all avenues of peaceful transfer of power through general elections and the substantial increase in human rights violations, all of Egypt’s obligations under international human rights conventions have been effectively suspended and guarantees for civil rights and liberties under Egypt’s own constitution are flagrantly disregarded in both statute and practice. If the current trajectory continues, Egypt will enter a dangerous phase that will perilously destabilize the state.  

With the March 2018 presidential elections imminent, the Egyptian state has suppressed legitimate political parties and shut down all avenues for a peaceful change. Rather than being allowed to campaign for the presidency, all potential candidates have instead been subjected to imprisonment, retaliatory campaigns of intimidation, violence, or persecution. This has rendered the elections a charade that does not carry out its intended democratic function but is instead functioning as a renewal of fealty to the sitting president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. By rendering a peaceful transfer of power impossible, the Egyptian government is making a violent transfer or contestation of power more likely.

If the country is to avert the catastrophe to where it is now headed, the Egyptian government must immediately cease its assault on the rule of law, its escalating attacks on independent civil society and international media, and its suppression of legitimate political parties and elimination of prospects of a peaceful transfer of power. Egypt’s current crisis occurs within an unstable system where the rule of law has collapsed, primarily through the violation of Egypt’s constitution – in legislation and in practice; the politicization of the judiciary; and the subversion of the Public Prosecutor’s role from an advocate for the people to an advocate for the security apparatus. Within this collapsed system – death sentences, extrajudicial executions, systematic torture, and enforced disappearance have become rampant while Egypt’s political prisoner population had swollen to around 60,000; the overwhelming majority imprisoned for peaceful activities and some detained without trial for years, including journalists, rights advocates, and academics.  

The Egyptian government has also escalated its assault on independent civil society and international media. With Egyptian media effectively nationalized or placed under arbitrary security restrictions, the Egyptian government has set its sights on destroying the few remaining outlets providing relatively impartial and reliable information to the Egyptian public, with smear campaigns particularly targeting international media.  Sites of independent rights organizations and news outlets are blocked, and social media is monitored while journalists and bloggers are routinely intimidated and persecuted.

The organizations emphasized that the principle of the peaceful transfer of power must be reinstated by implementing the electoral process anew, releasing all detained candidates and their aides and allowing those candidates, and every Egyptian citizen who so desires, to run for the presidency free of intimidation and persecution. If the current farcical electoral process continues and a peaceful transfer of power is precluded, Egypt will open itself to being overrun by religious extremism, terrorism, and political violence. The rights organizations urged the Secretary-General to devote his attention to this matter, insofar as it is part of the UN’s mandate to protect human rights and preserve international peace and security.

To view the memo:

March 13, 2018
His Excellency Mr. António Guterres
United Nations Secretary-General
U.N. Headquarters
New York, NY 10017

Re: Memorandum from Independent Egyptian Rights Organizations to the UN Secretary-General Concerning the Egyptian Presidential Elections

His Excellency Secretary-General Guterres,

The undersigned independent Egyptian rights organizations are highly concerned that the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt is pushing the country to the brink of a historical rupture that could perilously destabilize the state, potentially beyond the point of a foreseeable recovery. The violent and forcible suppression of Egyptian citizens who genuinely aspired to participate in Egypt’s upcoming presidential elections, and the outrageous upsurge in human rights violations, has precluded the prospects of peaceful transfer of power in the upcoming March 2018 elections. In both legislation and practice, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has effectively suspended Egypt’s obligations under international human rights conventions as well as guarantees for civil rights and liberties under Egypt’s own constitution. In the past, the President has scorned such guarantees, disingenuously claiming that Egypt, unlike Western nations, is exempt from upholding fundamental human rights.

Ramifications of the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt

  1. Precluding a peaceful transfer of power: After failing to postpone the elections by amending Egypt’s constitution to extend his presidential term by two years, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has deployed intimidation, violence, prosecution, and imprisonment to eliminate every serious challenger to his second term in office. This purging of even the mildest prospect of genuine democratic competition from the upcoming elections has occurred under the framework of exceptional powers arrogated by President al-Sisi to himself, in violation of the law and constitution.

    Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister and air force commander, was confined under undeclared house arrest until he withdrew his candidacy. When the Armed Forces 'Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Sami Anan refused to withdraw his candidacy, he was imprisoned; similarly, a military court meted out a six-year sentence to Col. Ahmed Konsowa in reprisal for his declaration to run in the elections. Two additional presidential candidates were coerced and intimidated, with one forced to withdraw and the other compelled to abort his campaign, leaving the current president the sole candidate. In an attempt to cloak the election slated for March 18th with a veneer of genuine competitiveness, President al-Sisi permitted one of his ardent supporters, Moussa Mostafa Moussa, to register last-minute as a token candidate.

    Judge Hesham Geneina, the Deputy of Anan’s presidential campaign team, was brutally assaulted -and later arrested after accusing security agencies of attempting to assassinate him- as he was on his way to file a legal appeal against the order barring Anan’s candidacy. Geneina had previously served as the head of Egypt’s Central Auditing Authority.

    The signatories fear that such heavy-handed practices reinforce narratives of political violence, religious extremism and terrorism, as highlighted in a joint statement on December 20th of last year.

  1. The collapse of the rule of law: Over the past four years, the top policy priority of the government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has been to eliminate any political alternative to his rule, be it secular or Islamist, using the pretext of counterterrorism. Policies and practices inimical to the law and Egypt’s constitution and international commitments are justified by this purported fight against terrorism, allowing the government to continue enacting draconian laws in flagrant violation of national and international legal standards.

    The government under President al-Sisi has also politicized the judiciary to the extent that UN experts described some of its judicial sentencing, as a“ mockery of justice.” The Office of the Public Prosecutor’s principal function has been utterly subverted; it does not act as an advocate for the public but instead wages war on the public; routinely and relentlessly prosecuting Egyptian artists, academics, politicians, rights advocates, and social media users. Just days ago, the public prosecutor, in an official statement, directed state prosecutors to take legal action against what he called the“forces of evil”—a term that does not exist under the law or the constitution. The term, however, is frequently used by President al-Sisi to incite against his opponents; showcasing his utter contempt for regulations, laws, and international obligations, which is profoundly regrettable considering he is the highest state official charged with the duty of upholding the rule of law.

  1. Suppression of legitimate political parties: In light of the crackdown to eliminate prospects of peaceful transition of power, the government is carrying out a campaign to harass and prosecute legitimate political parties and public figures who have publicly criticized or called for a boycott of the presidential elections. Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, the head of the registered opposition party Misr al-Qawia (Strong Egypt) and his deputy Mohammed al-Qassas were both arrested and charged with terrorism, a charge regularly leveled against tens of thousands of peaceful dissidents, be they secularists, Islamists, leftists, or even Coptic Christians. A retaliatory campaign overseen by security agencies and state media has also been directed against leaders of the Democratic Civil Movement.[1]
  1. The assault on independent civil society and media: President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government disallowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from establishing an office in Egypt, forced international rights organizations to shutter their offices in Egypt, and suppressed Egyptian rights groups.[2]Meanwhile Egyptian media has either been effectively nationalized or subjected to arbitrary security restrictions, and the few remaining outlets of media coverage not under the stranglehold of the authoritarian state[3]- social media and the international media – are now under attack, with particular ire being unleashed against the BBC and the New York Times.
  1. Surge in the use of physical violence over the past four years: There has been an alarming increase in the issuance and surge in the implementation of death sentences. 26 death sentences were carried out in 60 days, while 29 others await execution. Trials for 38 children are also underway on charges carrying the death penalty, while preliminary death sentences have been handed down to another seven people. Extrajudicial executions by security forces developed into a visible pattern, with at least dozens of well-documented incidents, including ones involving minors. Torture is practiced systematically in Egypt and is carried out by security forces with impunity, according to the UN’s Committee Against Torture. From June 30, 2013 to mid-August 2016, the “Stop Enforced Disappearance” campaign documented at least 912 cases of enforced disappearance, among them 15 people whose whereabouts are still unknown. In its latest annual report, the campaign said that at least 378 people have been disappeared between from August 2016 to August 2017. There are approximately 60,000 political prisoners and detainees held in Egypt, the overwhelming majority of them peaceful, ranging from secularists to Islamists. Some have been held without trial or in pretrial detention for years, among them journalists, rights advocates, and academics.

The undersigned independent rights groups fear that ending prospects of peaceful transfer of power and not holding free and fair elections, would spin the situation in Egypt out of control. The electoral process must be implemented anew, with the release of all detained candidates and their aides. Those candidates, along with every Egyptian citizen, must be allowed to exercise their right to run for the presidency without intimidation and prosecution. The undersigned organizations strongly urge your excellency to devote your attention to this matter, insofar as it is part of the UN’s mandate to protect human rights and preserve international peace and security.

Signatory organizations:

  • Cairo institute for Human rights studies
  • Belady - Island for Humanity
  • Freedom Initiative
  • Committee for Justice
  • Arab Foundation for Civil and Political Rights—Nedal
  • Adalah for Rights and Freedoms
  • Egyptian Human Rights Front

[1] A coalition of secular parties and public figures.
[2]At least 29 rights advocates have been banned from travel and 10 rights defenders and 7 organizations have had their assets frozen. Dozens of staff at these organizations have been questioned in connection with a case designed to  criminalize rights organizations (known in the media as the Foreign Funding Case). Two directors of rights groups have been imprisoned (Ibrahim Metwally and Ezzat Ghoneim) and others have received death threats.
[3]Thus far 497 websites have been blocked in Egypt, most of them news sites. VPN services that allow Egyptian to bypass the ban have also been blocked.

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