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Wednesday, 11 December 2019

A clash of two parliaments

Parliament has been up in arms defending Egypt’s human rights image in foreign circles, reports Gamal Essam El-Din

Gamal Essam El-Din , Thursday 31 Oct 2019
Egyptian Parliament
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Parliament has in recent weeks mobilised to respond to a flurry of foreign reports criticising Egypt’s human rights record.

The biggest move came on 25 October when parliament condemned a UN parliament resolution criticising the government for rounding up dozens of political activists and journalists who joined protests against the government staged on 27 September.

Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal said the EU parliament had no authority to comment on such issues. “This represents a continuation of an unacceptable pattern of similar EU parliament resolutions which the Egyptian parliament and people do not bother about very much,” Abdel-Aal said, adding that “we do not know on what basis the EU parliament gives itself the right to comment on the internal issues of non-EU countries.

“The EU parliament should rather focus on the many shortcomings which mark the situation of human rights in EU countries, and which the European media covers on a daily basis,” Abdel-Aal added, arguing that “the EU parliament resolution shows some sort of a double standard which aims to secure interests by no means related to the cause of human rights.”

According to Abdel-Aal’s statement, “the Egyptian House of Representatives deplores the EU parliament’s destructive and malicious intentions, and for its unacceptable intervention in the internal affairs of Egypt. And for this reason, we strongly condemn the lies and misguided statements which make the EU resolution worthless. The EU parliament should know that Egypt is a big, important and influential country in its geographical and regional sphere and so such incorrect resolutions and statements do not have any impact.”

The statement also condemned all forms of intervention in the internal affairs of Egypt, the attempts aimed at tarnishing the Egyptian judicial authority, and the “arrogant language” which marked the EU parliament’s resolution.

Abdel-Aal accused the EU parliament of irresponsibility and choosing to be “a toy in the hands of a handful of infamous NGOs closely linked with well-known terrorist organisations.

“We feel sorry that the EU parliament chose to adopt the wicked agenda of certain parties which are doing their best to poison the relationship between Egypt and the EU for the sake of securing narrow-minded interests and implementing their hostile schemes against the Egyptian state,” Abdel-Aal said.

He added that the relationship between Egypt and the EU should be based on mutual dialogue. “This dialogue should help create common ground that could help secure the mutual interests of the strategic relationship between the two sides.

“Let the EU know that Egypt will submit a periodic comprehensive report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in a few days. This report includes an objective review of the situation of human rights in Egypt, and shows that Egypt is keen, out of national will, to implement all international conventions as well as the country’s 2014 constitutional obligations on human rights, freedoms and sovereignty of law,” Abdel-Aal said.

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

After meeting with Vraila on Sunday, Karim Darwish, head of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said “Egypt totally rejects the arrogant language and the style of dictation used by some to evaluate internal domestic conditions, particularly when these take the line of organised, politicised and misguided campaigns.

“The EU parliament should know that there is a fine line between the adoption of issues related to human rights and the support of terrorist oganisations,” Darwish said.

The EU resolution said there should be a profound review of the EU’s relations with Egypt and that the human rights situation in the country requires a serious revision of the European Commission’s budget support operations, which should be restricted to primarily supporting civil society.

Darwish told Vraila that since the EU parliament was formed just three months ago, “it was important for its deputies to issue resolutions related to friendly and partner countries only after they revise the partnership agreements with these countries and hold a political dialogue with its MPs.

“The EU parliament’s deputies should not violate the principles of partnership with Egypt and its legal rules in terms of such hasty resolutions which show no understanding of the nature and issues gripping our region.”

Darwish revealed that he had asked Vraila to convey these messages to the EU Higher Commissioner for Foreign Relations. “We are open and welcome to dialogue and exchange of views with the EU on human rights issues, but without using arrogant language and the policy of dictation and misguided information,” Darwish said.

He said parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee will hold a meeting on Sunday to discuss the strategy of cooperation with international partners, “in light of the policy used by some to adopt incorrect positions and spread lies on the situation of human rights in Egypt”.

MPs joined the outrage against the EU parliament. Alaa Abed, chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, said the EU parliament’s move against the Egyptian state protecting its national security shows that that parliament has been increasingly taking the side of extremist and terrorist groups. “The EU parliament resolution was based on information provided by the Muslim Brotherhood and some mediocre human rights NGOs which receive money from Qatar and Turkey,” said Abed, regreting that “the EU parliament did not contact Egyptian authorities to verify information on human rights in the country.”

Abed said the committee had been visiting a number of Egyptian prisons where some activists were recently held. “The visits by the committee and the National Council for Human Rights aimed to make sure that activists and prisoners were well treated and that there was no violation of human rights,” Abed said, praising the most recent decision by the prosecutor-general to order more than 1,000 of those arrested released.

Darwish said the Egypt-EU partnership agreement, signed in 2001, has been based on high-level political dialogue between the two sides to achieve development and stability. “The agreement states that this dialogue should be held at diplomatic, government, executive and parliamentary levels, and so what the EU parliament has done represents a violation of this agreement,” Darwish said.

The EU resolution on the situation of human rights in Egypt comes just one month after London-based Amnesty International issued a report accusing the government of preventing citizens from exercising their right to freedom of movement and peaceful assembly. In response, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) said the Amnesty report was “biased and politicised and has no relation to human rights.”

“The recent handling of some international human rights NGOs in Egyptian affairs can only be characterised by blatant contradictions, lack of objectivity and a tendency to adopt allegations not based on any genuine human rights reference,” SIS said in its statement, adding that the narrative, or rather accusations, of those NGOs are more like biased politicised accusations.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 31 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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