Open Letter to President Macron Before his Upcoming Trip to Egypt

In Opinion Articles by CIHRS

Published in French on orientxxi.info – 27 January 2019

Bahey eldin Hassan

Next week President Macron will be on his first official visit to Egypt. I’m sure he is aware of the many accusations by Egyptian and international human rights organizations towards his support and partnership with the Egyptian government in its bloody crackdown on the Egyptian people. Last year, when he met with President Sisi, President Macron said he will not “lecture” him on human rights; I’m not sure if this was out of a belief Egyptians are not as worthy of their rights as French people or was if it out of his guilt for the shameful partnership in human rights crimes committed against Egyptians.

I’m sure President Macron, like many other people, is aware of the horrors of military dictatorships in Latin America, but not aware of the extents of its similarities to Egypt. The past three decades in Colombia witnessed a phenomenon referred to as “False Positives”, where security forces kidnapped victims into remote areas and executed them and dressed them up as guerrilla fighters. Around 5,000 civilians were extrajudicially executed by security forces in those years. The same phenomenon is taking place in Egypt, however, it reflects a difference in the modus operandi and scale. While in Colombia 40% of the 2,000 alleged fighters reported to have been killed in 2007 were executed civilians, the figure only in Sinai is more horrific. Experts estimate that there are 1,000 to 1,500 ISIS fighters in Egypt, however security officials have stated proudly that they have killed 6,000 fighters since mid-2013. Unlike Latin America’s False Positives, where the executions took place on the same day the victims disappeared, in Egypt the victims are executed within days or months of their disappearances, most probably after storing them as human livestock.

The latest False Positive in Egypt took place last month. One day after an explosion targeted a bus carrying tourists in the Pyramids area, the government announced that it killed 40 alleged militants across the country without disclosing any of the names of those killed or the names of the terrorist groups they were allegedly affiliated with. However, the families of two of the deceased persons were contacted later by the police to claim the bodies of their relatives, as part of the 40 alleged militants. The families assert that the deceased were detained two years ago and were disappeared by the police while in custody after the prosecutor ordered their release. There are 167 people who have been killed in a similar context between September and December of last year, however, the security officials disclosed the names of only three of them.

The pattern of “False Positives” has been on the rise in Egypt since General Abdelfatah Al-Sissi’s orchestrated a military coup as minister of defense in July 3rd, 2013, before becoming president a year later. While his longstanding top priority is to crush his peaceful political opponents, regardless of their affiliations, Sissi brands his ongoing crackdown as combating terrorism. In order to ensure the silence of the Egyptian public and international community on his bloody repression, which is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history, he needs from time to time to showcase some “positive” outcomes even if they are “false” ones. This helps him justify to foreign leaders, like President Macron, the dirty deals that they are part of.

In May 2015, Egyptians woke up to the first shining example of this horrible pattern, when the Ministry of Interior announced the killing of 22-year-old university student, Islam Attito, after he allegedly opened fire on police forces when they raided his hiding place in the desert. However, official documents and testimonies from university faculty and staff, and security video footage prove that the victim attended his final exam one day before his murder was announced and was seen chased by two men after leaving the university premises.

In January 2017, the Ministry of Interior announced that it killed 10 ISIS members in a gunfire exchange. But, it was revealed by some of the deceased families that at least six of them had been forcibly disappeared by security forces from their homes or from the street, and were held incommunicado for up to three months. Technical experts analyzed video footage released by security forces of that raid and concluded that the video was a façade, highlighting that the victims might have been extrajudicially executed.  Additionally, a leaked video shows the extrajudicial execution of unarmed men and minors who had been previously reported to have been killed by the government in counterterrorism operations.

After his coup, Sissi managed to consolidate power and intimidate state institutions in a manner unparalleled to any other dictator in Egypt’s modern history. He has almost nationalized Egypt’s judiciary, parliament and media. It has become impossible for any Egyptian citizen or institution to hold him accountable for his human rights crimes, or they will end up paying an unbearably high price. This is why Sissi audaciously publicly promised his officers that “if an officer injures or kills protestors, he will not be tried.”

Even after three years of mobilizing Italy’s government, parliament, prosecution, media and civil society supported by the international community, the family of the academic Giuolio Regeni got nothing from Egypt concerning his kidnap, torture, killing and dumping his body in the desert. Attempts to evade truth for Regeni included executing five Egyptians extrajudicially to pin his murder on them, but the Egyptian government quickly abandoned this story after Italian investigators questioned it. Still, Regeni’s family might be luckier than the families of over 1200 Egyptians who have been disappeared since 2013 as Sissi’s government refuses to disclose the fate of any of them. Those disappeared might be waiting for their turn in the False Positive’s livestock, or their bodies might be waiting for someone to accidently discover it, as was the case with Regeni’s body. This is why President Sissi adopted early on a zero-tolerance policy towards independent human rights organizations and defenders, who are subjected to prosecution, arrest, disappearance, shutdown, defaming them as foreign agents, assets freezes, travel bans or as in my case, receiving death threats, which I’m sure President Macron is aware of.

In the absence of credible means to reach truth and accountability for the horrific events that have been taking place in Egypt for the past five years, the United Nations has a moral, before legal, responsibility to address this atrocity through an international investigation. This however will not be possible without the support of key states like France. President Macron is planning on meeting human rights defenders during his visit to Egypt; he assumes that a few minutes meeting might help wash his hands off his partnership in the killing and repressing of the Egyptian people. It’s not; this is the time for action.

This post is also available in: العربية