Jurists and politicians unanimously agreed that Egyptian reactions concerning the recently released European Parliament report were emotive, stressful, and lacked rationality and objectivity. The report included downright condemnation of the human rights situation in the country. Furthermore, Egypt did not go through the trouble of challenging the facts included in the reports regarding the human rights situation in Egypt.
These opinions were expressed in a symposium organized by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on Tuesday February 5th 2008. The symposium called Ibn Rushd Salon was held on the occasion of the European Parliament resolution. The title of the symposium, moderated by Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan, CIHRS Director, was: “Human Rights between International Intervention and National Sovereignty”. Mr. Bahey dealt first of all with the criticism included in the European Resolution regarding the status of the freedom of the press and the media in Egypt. Also the closure of two human rights organizations, namely, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services and the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA), in addition to torture in prisons and detention centers. The report called for putting an end to such practices.
Mr. Bahey added that the report also addressed the state of freedom of religious beliefs in Egypt. This along with the issue of the arrest of Dr. Ayman Nour, President of “Al Ghadd” Party, apart from the Military Tribunals Code and the State of Emergency imposed on the country. The report requested that the Egyptian government observe the forthcoming legislation to combat terrorism accordingly with the international standards and emphasized the importance of ensuring and strengthening the independence of the judiciary.
Mr. Bahey pointed out that during the few hours that preceded the proclamation of the European Parliament resolution dramatic developments on the Egyptian side occurred, when the EU ambassadors in Cairo where being summoned. He stressed that the Egyptian action purported mainly that the Egyptian government believes that European parliaments are managed by European governments, as the case OF the Arab World. The Egyptian response considered also that the European resolution is “a blatant intervention in the affairs of the country”, a “super-ordination” and deemed it as “an infringement upon national sovereignty” as “it expressed unawareness of the human rights situation in Egypt”!
In this context Mr. Bahey emphasized the fact that the Egyptian official reply overlooked the discussion of any of the information stated in the resolution! It was also noted by Egyptian officials that the resolution was issued to serve Israel’s interests and that the person playing an important roll behind it is a key figure within the European Parliament loyal to Israel! The official reply was also heedless toward notifying the domestic public opinion about Egypt’s commitments as per the partnership agreement with the European Union and whether this resolution had any link with these commitments or not?!
CIHRS director stated that Article 2 of the partnership agreement provides for respect of democracy, human rights, and political dialogue between the two parties on issues of mutual interest particularly peace, democracy, regional development and human rights. He also clarified that the agreements following partnership (the European Neighborhood Policy action plan) included priorities such as the enhancement and protection of human rights, strengthening the role of civil society and its integration in the political and democratic process, administering a permanent dialogue on human rights, independence of the judiciary, prison conditions, legislation in force and how far they conform with the international standards.
Mr. Bahey also added that Egyptian reservations on the voting process within the European Parliament regarding the resolution on the situation in Egypt were inappropriate. This since the major blocs within the Parliament did not object to the resolution. Meanwhile Egyptian reactions varied between different parties, whereas a group disapproved the resolution and refused to acknowledge the deterioration of human rights, deeming the resolution an intervention (this group included the Egyptian government, Parliament, the National Council for Human Rights, and Al-Wafd and Al-Tagamu’ opposition parties). Another group thought that the criticisms voiced by this resolution are nothing new under the sun. A third group saw that violations listed in the report are authentic and that the bilateral agreements bestow legitimacy on the resolution. The responsibility of criticism falls mainly with actors of the Egyptian collaborators, such as reformist judges and human rights organizations.
Mr. Bahey explained that the European decision has been negotiated for several months and that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry was aware of the process. They followed it closely and sometimes intervened therein. He drew the attention to the fact that the European Parliament does not convene in secrecy, and that information related to it is available for review by international concerned human rights organizations. He also said that the insinuations that Israel was behind the resolution conveys an inaccurate message. Adding to the hysteria with which the European resolution was received. This did not happen when American Congress issued a more important resolution which included the suspension of part of American aid to Egypt. On the contrary, the American resolution was received with composure, compared to the frenzied reaction to the European Parliament’s resolution.
Dr. Nabil Helmy, Professor of International Law and Member of the National Council for Human Rights and of the NDP Policy Commission, began by referring to the development introduced to the principle of intervention in the domestic affairs of states. He indicated that this principle changed since the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the unipolar world order. He added that matters developed considerably ever since, and intervention, whether military or under the pretext of human rights and humanitarian situations, was justified. He also illuminated the enormous evolution in technology, communication and transportation contributed significantly to this evolution.
Dr. Helmy admitted that the principle of absolute sovereignty against any foreign intervention began to melt down. He indicated that the Egyptian government should be aware of this issue and deal with it in a civilized way commensurate with the main principles of the international community. He stated some reservations he had on the European Parliament resolution to the timing of its issuance, which came after the Congress resolution to cut down part of the American annual aid to Egypt. He was concerned that the American side has double standards in relation to Egypt and Israel, whereas the latter is permanently violating human rights while assistance to Israel goes untouched.
Helmy added that the issue of privacy is of “special importance”, and gave evidence from Egypt in dealing with the question of identification papers and the column left for indicating religion. He warned that discrimination on the basis of religion or gender could split society. However, Dr. Helmy thought that the Egyptian reaction to the European resolution was characterized by “irritability” and said that the policy of dealing with it was irrational. Furthermore that the resolution touched “raw nerves”, such as the issue of the Emergency law, the new anti-terrorist act, and the independence of the judiciary. Dr. Helmy wondered, “If the People’s Assembly Speaker Dr. Fathy Sourour thinks that the resolution was based on incorrect information, why didn’t he provide the correct information?!” He also indicated that issues such as Baha’ism and discrimination jeopardize Egypt’s reputation.
Mr. Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour, Secretary General of al- Wafd Party dealt with historical reasons he deemed as motives behind what he described as “excessive susceptibility” of the Egyptian people to any foreign intervention. He argued that Egyptian history is overloaded with sore experiences that betray this intervention, since the mixed courts and the British occupation of the country for seventy years. He added that the Egyptian national movement made the independence of national will its first priority.
Mounir agreed with the premise that globalization and technological progress had a great influence in converting the citizen of any state into a “global citizen”, whereas any person subject to violation obtains global solidarity, irrespective of his/her nationality, color or religion. He pointed out that we should make a distinction between foreign intervention for humanitarian reasons and purposes, and intervention that exploits the humanitarian situation as an alleged reason to put pressure to bear on some states. He argued that many states have concluded agreements granting mutual rights of following up the human rights situation, and that the Euro-Egyptian partnership agreement and the Barcelona Accord were among such agreements.
However, Abdel Nour expressed reservation on the report’s mention of smuggling through tunnels between Egypt and Gaza Strip, which he considered “out of context”. Furthermore he commented on the timing of the resolution following the Congress decision to suspend part of American aid to Egypt. The European resolution, he continued, was also issued without prior warning to Egypt.
Abdel Nour said that a Jew, who was a leader of the student movement in France in 1968, led the tide for the issuance of the resolution. However, Abdel Nour drew the attention that this resolution is the sixth in a raw on the European side regarding Egypt since 2001. He specified that Egyptian reactions in the past were more rational and objective, and that Egypt sought parliamentary dialogue with the European side. Previous resolutions included abrasive criticism of the status of women and Copts in Egypt and also dealt with the case of Ayman Nour.
Abdel Nour emphasized that this time the Egyptian reaction lacked rationality and confused the role of governments with the role of parliaments, in addition to the “factitious sensitivity”. He asserted that rationality and dialogue should be exercised, and that we should admit that the human rights situation in Egypt is problematic. Finally, he considered that the European Parliament resolution is a statement of facts already existing and that we should be vigilant about instead of dealing with facts with excessive emotionality, and we should react objectively and honestly with ourselves.
Mr. George Ishaq, member of the coordination committee of the Egyptian Movement for Change “Kefaya” began by stating that the timing of the European Parliament convening coincided with a demonstration that Kefaya had called for against price increases, that the Egyptian regime crushed violently and indiscriminately. He also pointed out the previous and continuous violations against journalists and activists. Ishaq described the performance of the Egyptian government vis-à-vis the European report as “poor”, asserting that it ruined the great legacy of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.
Ishaq affirmed that the human rights situation in Egypt is deficient and they are violated around the clock. However, he objected to the European Parliament’s resolution’s double standards vis-à-vis Israeli human rights violations, and argued that the Israeli policy puts pressures on European discourse to influence public opinion to adopt the Israeli viewpoint and defend Israel’s policies against the Arabs and the Palestinians. He also censured the lack of criticism in Europe of war crimes committed by Israel on a daily basis.
Mr. Bahey commented by saying that criticism focusing around double standards might apply to European governments but not to the European Parliament. This since it passed similar resolutions regarding Israel, the last of which was released two months prior to the resolution on Egypt.
Mr. Hafez Abou Saada, Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, asserted that the Egyptian government’s opinion vis-à-vis the Gaza tunnels was unbecoming, as he confirmed that the European resolution adopted Egypt’s standpoint on this issue and called upon all sides concerned to cooperate with Egypt to stop smuggling across the borders.
Abou Saada maintained that the European declaration was drafted in “highly decent” language, and observed the relationship between the two sides. He also mentioned that the declaration began with reinforcing peace and democratic stability in neighboring countries, indicating that the Egyptian foreign Ministry played a crucial role in mitigating the tone of the report. He sought as a proof to his argument that the resolution did not allude to the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) trials. Abou Saada thought that this step corroborates the fact that political relations between states always comes to the detriment of human rights issues, alluding that torture was mentioned in the resolution quite courteously also. Furthermore, the resolution called for the release of Ayman Nour in the light of his “deteriorating state of health”. Abou Saada expressed reservation on Abdel Nour’s correlation between the European Parliament’s resolution and national sovereignty. This is not invoked except when speaking about allegations of human rights violation.
Abou Saada maintained that the European Union is neither conspiring against, nor inimical to Egypt. The positive aspect of the Egyptian regime is that it maintains good relations with the Western world. He also stated that the argument that the principle of intervention in issues pertaining to human rights evolved after the collapse of the Soviet Union was unfounded. Abou Saada indicated that human rights conventions and treaties allow for international intervention in human rights issues. Furthermore the International Covenant requires States Party to submit periodic reports every four years on the measures they have adopted to give effect to provisions of the Covenant and endows other States Party with the right to review and criticize these reports.
He indicated that the points dealt with in the European resolution are valid, and are even more assuaged than the reality in Egypt. Judicial sentences exist that corroborate torture, and information on violations is available in newspapers and everywhere. He emphasized that the decision should be dealt with by first acknowledging the validity of its content, proclaiming an Egyptian plan to cope with violations and the presence of the necessary will to strike this confrontation. He called for a “national project” for modifying the human rights situation.
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