Experts question Egypt’s response to US over human rights violations

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On September 11, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi launched a plan for human rights, after the Biden administration refused to override congressional scrutiny based on concerns about human rights violations and ” authorize the release of some $ 300 million in military aid.

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Three days later, the US State Department announced that Secretary Antony Blinken would release $ 170 million in aid, with the remaining $ 130 million to be withheld due to rights issues.

Al-Sisi, in his remarks at the launch of the strategy, drafted by the Supreme Standing Committee on Human Rights established under the authority of the Foreign Ministry, said: “It is with pleasure that I begin my speech on the occasion of the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy welcoming you all, contributors to the development of this strategy, Egyptians or foreign guests, because you are all sharing with us this radiant moment in contemporary history from Egypt. I consider this step to be crucial on the road to the promotion of human rights in Egypt. “

Dr Sameh Fawzy, member of the committee’s advisory board, told The Media Line: “The National Human Rights Strategy is a remarkable step forward in the promotion of human rights. It is a state-sponsored strategy, drafted by a senior committee formed in November 2018, and deliberated with an advisory board of 25 members.

“The strategy has been met with great interest nationally and internationally. However, it is time to think about how to translate it into practice; upholding human rights, in particular, requires well-constructed programs at the cultural and practical levels, ”said Fawzy.

Ned Price, the spokesperson for the US State Department, noted on September 15 that while $ 130 million in aid would continue to be withheld, the administration is making “aid to Egypt in categories that I mentioned, namely border security, non-proliferation and counterterrorism programs. And we will move forward with this $ 130 million, the maximum amount we can withhold, only if the Egyptian government affirmatively addresses the specific human rights conditions.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price holds a press briefing on Afghanistan at the State Department in Washington, U.S., August 16, 2021. (REUTERS / Kevin Lamarque / POOL)

In July 2020, then-candidate Joe Biden criticized al-Sisi for human rights abuses in Egypt, tweeting: “No more blank checks for Trump’s favorite dictator.

The arrests of political dissidents are of particular interest to the Biden administration, the US Congress, and international human rights defenders.

Some 60,000 detainees in Egypt are political prisoners, say rights groups. These include secular activists, journalists, lawyers, academics and Islamists arrested in a widespread crackdown on dissent under al-Sisi.

Ramy Kamel is a prominent Christian activist currently in detention for promoting the civil rights of the Copts. Kamel, also known for defending urban poor and rural Egyptian peasants, was charged in November 2019 with joining and funding a terrorist group and disrupting public peace.

Patrick George Zaki was indicted on September 13 for “spreading false news” after 19 months in pre-trial detention. According to the Supreme State Security Prosecutor’s Office, a special branch of the prosecution, the indictment was based on an article published on the Daraj digital media platform in July 2019 titled “Displacement, Murder and Restriction : newspaper of a week of the Egyptian Copts ”. The article presents a week in Zaki’s life as a Copt reacting to current events concerning Egyptian Christians.

Said Sadek, professor of political sociology, told The Media Line of the government’s new strategy: “It has sparked public discourse on the culture of human rights, but the real test is enforcement. What is positive is that the state has promised achievements and policies within five years.

He expressed some skepticism about the next steps, noting that they would require changing not only laws but well-established practices among the security services and significant cultural changes leading to an end to violence against women and minorities. .

Human rights groups and many US congressional officials had hoped the Biden administration would withhold the full $ 300 million.

In October 2020, 56 U.S. Democratic lawmakers reinforced Biden’s message in a letter to al-Sisi, urging the release of human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and other prisoners of conscience. Lawmakers in their letter berated the Egyptian leader for the tens of thousands of people imprisoned during his administration. Many remain in prison, awaiting trial longer than the legal limit of two years.

Tarek Radwan, chairman of the Human Rights Committee in the Egyptian House of Representatives, said in a statement: “The strategy is a clear commitment by the government to an action plan on an integrated human rights strategy. man, ”emphasizing -Sisi is eager to implement this strategy.

Radwan stressed that the Human Rights Committee will continue to be in constant contact with the Supreme Standing Committee on Human Rights and any administrative body established to implement the strategy, to fulfill its monitoring role. The committee will work with all parties concerned to implement this strategy by providing existing expertise and helping to achieve its goal, he said.

Kamal el-Sawi, an expert on Middle East and Egyptian affairs and retired US Department of Defense senior analyst, told The Media Line that the Supreme Standing Committee on Human Rights “emerged after severe criticism from [US] Democrats.

“It appears that Egypt has not been diligent in releasing the prisoners and improving the human rights situation. Some circles in the White House, the National Security Council and the State Department believe that human rights violations in Egypt should not be tolerated and that a clear message should be sent. This was evident as they announced the suspension of some military aid during the Bright Star maneuvers. [held every two years by the US and Egyptian military forces] in Egypt, and thus the United States is proving that it is serious in this matter, ”said Sawi.

Radwan in his statement said that human rights concerns are “a global trend and Egypt is part of this trend and is proceeding through all its stages out of a belief in the importance of human rights. man within the framework of the overall development of the State, on the basis of a comprehensive national vision.

He went on to say: “President al-Sisi’s designation of 2022 as the ‘Year of Civil Society’ represents a further affirmation by President al-Sisi of his respect and appreciation for human rights and the contribution and role of national civil society organizations in achieving this goal. goal.”

Radwan, however, stressed the need to respect cultural differences between different societies, noting that Egypt categorically rejects interference in its internal affairs.

Fawzy said human rights must be part of Egyptian culture.

“Education is one of the most influential fields. Students are expected to learn human rights principles at school and university through civic education programs. Egypt has suffered considerably from the influence of extremists on the education system, especially during the short-lived rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, ”he said.

“Since 2014, there has been a strong movement to purify textbooks of extremist ideas, exclude teachers who disseminate fanatic and extremist views, and ensure that activities are carried out regularly without interruption. While government efforts to eradicate extremism from education are essential, it seems crucial to complement these efforts with civic education programs that encourage tolerance, participation and cooperation, ”said Fawzy.

Sawi notes that the new “strategy is certainly the result of US pressure, and tying aid to specific conditions will force the US State Department to issue a report to Congress and the President indicating that the Egyptian administration has responded to the demands. conditions under which the rest of the aid must be released, otherwise there is no sense in withholding the $ 130 million.

He continued: “The Egyptian administration is in an unenviable position. There are serious violations, especially with regard to people detained before trial for more than two years. What the US administration is asking for is the implementation of the Egyptian Constitution approved by the Egyptian people.

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