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Egypt MPs meet with EU diplomats in Cairo to discuss human rights criticisms

The discussion comes after a clash between the EU parliament and Egypt's House of Representatives

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 12 Nov 2019
Egyptian MPs meet EU Amb to Cairo Surkos
Egyptian MPs meet EU Ambassador to Cairo Ivan Surkos (Photo Courtesy of Egyptian Parliament)
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The head of the Egyptian parliament's human rights committee Alaa Abed held a meeting on Tuesday with Ivan Surkos, the EU ambassador to Cairo, on the heels of the recent verbal clash between the Egyptian and EU parliaments on the topic of human rights in the Arab nation.

The Egyptian House of Representatives, in a statement on 1 November, accused the European Parliament of meddling in the country’s internal affairs, violating the spirit of the EU-Egypt partnership, which is based on mutual cooperation rather than intervention, and adopting double standards on human rights.

The exchange of verbal attacks led Marina Vraila, head of the political, press and information section at the EU delegation to Cairo, to ask for an urgent meeting with parliament's leading officials, to contain the situation.

The head of the House's foreign relations committee Karim Darwish told reporters that he had asked Vraila to convey a message to the EU’s high representative for foreign relations that Egypt welcomes open dialogue with the EU, but rejects the policy of dictation and misguided information, particularly on human rights.

Abed told reporters following the meeting that there are no detainees in Egypt.

"The EU ambassador claimed that there are 4,000 detainees in Egypt, and I said there is nothing in Egypt called ‘detainees,’" said Abed, adding that "what we have are ‘prisoners placed in custody’ and they are being treated in accordance with accusations levelled at them."

"There was a detention law in Egypt but it was cancelled in 2010," said Abed.

Abed said the EU ambassador asked that a law against torture be passed in Egypt.

"I said we are not in need of this law because the constitution (passed in 2014) clearly incriminates torture, and that this crime can't be dropped retroactively," said Abed.

Margaret Azer, deputy head of the human rights committee, also told reporters following the meeting with Surkos that members of the committee discussed the situation of human rights in Egypt in detail.

"We spoke on freedoms, respect for human rights, the Egyptian constitution, the protest law, woman empowerment, and the new personal status law," said Azer, indicating that "the new law regulating personal status is still under national dialogue and that parliament will do its best to gain consensus before it is passed."

Azer said the meeting also entailed discussion on the implementation of the law on the construction and restoration of churches.

"This law, which was passed by parliament two years ago, was a big success for the Egyptian people and for national unity," said Azer.

Azer said the law regulating street protests gives citizens and activists the right to resort to courts.

"Egypt's population is 100 million and when 4,000 people decide to organise a demonstration they should seek prior permission, and if the interior ministry said no, they could resort to the courts," said Azer.

Abed said many who were arrested for violating the protest law have been released.

"Many were released due to their social conditions and because they were not aware of the offence they were committing," said Abed.

Abed accused Qatar of squandering money to tarnish the image of Egypt before the periodical meeting rights review meeting at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

He said he had urged the EU to condemn human rights violations committed by Turkey in Syria.

Azer indicated that head and members of the committee had urged EU officials to have a broader view of human rights, taking social and economic rights into account.

"EU officials usually focus on certain aspect of the human rights, but they should change this to widen the scope of human rights," said Azer, indicating that Egypt has taken great strides in the area of education, social and economic rights, and removing slum areas.

The meeting was attended by Marina Vraila and Peter Saling, the EU delegation official in charge of the human rights file.

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