On 8 May, a press release signed by eight NGOs criticised Egypt for adding individuals they considered to be “human rights defenders” to its terrorism lists.
The NGOs that signed the press release are dispersed around the globe in Washington, Geneva, the UK, and the Czech Republic. Only two operate out of Cairo. Both fault-finding and critical, these NGOs seem happy to provoke a sense of doom as far as Egypt is concerned.
“The undersigned human rights organisations condemn the decision of the 13th Circuit of the Cairo Criminal Court to include 81 Egyptians on terrorism lists for a period of five years, including human rights defenders and political activists,” the release says.
Space does not allow me to scrutinise the 81 persons listed, but some of them spark interest. I will focus on these since they illustrate the others.
“In addition, the procedure is arbitrary in itself and constitutes a violation of the basic human rights of defendants who have not yet been proven guilty,” the release continues. It condemns the Criminal Court for criminalising persons “whether the terrorist act has occurred or not.”
But where in the world would the security services await the committing of a crime when the verified intention to commit one is present?
The decision to include individuals on the lists is not limited to the perpetrators of violent crimes, the release says, but rather is expanded “to become a tool for revenge.” Revenge seems a far-fetched claim. Underlying motives, such as arbitrarily inciting mayhem or possessing allegiances against Egypt are all grounds for such action.
Middle East Eye, (MEE), a London-based website, then followed suit by hailing the press release of the NGOs while calling those on the lists “journalists.” MEE is owned by Jamal Awn Jamal Bessasso, a former director at Aljazeera and a former director at Samalink TV in Lebanon, the registered agent for the website of the Hamas-controlled Al-Quds TV channel, all of which are backers of the Muslim Brotherhood.
According to the release, “the decision is part of broader efforts to silence and intimidate opposition media and dissidents” in Egypt. MEE mentions by name “several prominent journalists” including Moataz Matar of the Al-Sharq Channel, Mohamed Nasser of the Mekameleen Channel, and Hamza Zawbaa, a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party.
We need to question the validity of the press release and examine its innuendos.
While the release and MEE call these persons “journalists,” nothing in fact could be further from the truth. In essence, they are the agents of terrorist propaganda. They are known to be affiliated with the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood, and MEE is intentionally ignoring what they explicitly aim to achieve: the downfall of Egypt.
Don’t tell me that these are opposition sites if they encourage and promote the killing of Egyptians.
In a piece on Al-Arabiya News, journalist Yasser Abdel-Aziz has discussed these channels and their purposes. “These channels are accused of supporting terrorism, and many researchers and analysts do not consider them to be proper media channels due to their inciteful, fabricated, and hateful content,” he says.
“I have watched some of these channels and have concluded that they do not provide media content as much as they provide continuous and hurtful criticism and calls for uprisings, disobedience, the murder of Egyptian army and policemen, and even terrorist attacks.”
Much information on MEE cites it as the manufacturer of fake news and one that misleads human rights organisations and other outlets. “The production of fabricated stories and the circulation of rumours to muddy the waters [in order to mislead] various and globally reaching human rights organisations has been a forever spinning wheel for Middle East Eye,” says Ibrahim AlKhamis in the Medium.
Now we come to the real motive behind the press release and the whirlwind it hoped to create: to cast doubt on and to diminish the value of the present National Dialogue that is intended to foster open debate and produce political, social, and economic reform.
The timing is telling. “This [the terrorist list] undermines all claims of dialogue, acceptance, and communication claimed by the government-sponsored ‘National Dialogue’ that kicked off in Cairo last week,” the press release says.
Mohamed Nasser, a Mekameleen channel anchor and one of the “journalists” added to the terrorism lists, has been ranting for weeks against the National Dialogue. He predicts failure and insinuates futility; to him it is a device to hoodwink Egyptians.
According to MEE, the inclusion of journalists on the lists is part of the government’s efforts to limit the scope of the national debate and to exclude them from the National Dialogue. But Diaa Rashwan, coordinator of the dialogue, made it clear from the start that “all factions that have taken part in killing or incitement to violence or terrorism will be excluded from the National Dialogue,” something with which Egyptians would totally agree.
In fact, they would have been aghast if Muslim Brotherhood members had been allowed to participate in it.
One possibly far-fetched comparison may clarify the oddity of what these sources are calling for. If a National Dialogue regarding the security and welfare of the US existed, would those who led the 6 January insurgency in Washington be expected to participate in it? Muslim Brotherhood affiliates have conducted many similarly damaging events in Egypt, so they should have no rights to participate in the present dialogue.
Did rights groups fault Ukraine and the Western countries when they imposed sanctions on Russians after the invasion of Ukraine? Hundreds of musicians, actors, athletes, and television personalities became “propagandists of death,” according to Western sources, merely for being Russian.
The US news channel CBS News has talked of how Russian musicians, ballet dancers, and athletes have been shunned in the West and seen their events cancelled as they are “treated as part of the [Russian] state.” Russian teams have also been banned from international soccer and hockey tournaments.
Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina had an event cancelled in Switzerland. “I find it so controversial and so not necessary. I mean, what would this cancellation change in terms of the global situation,” she asked. Russian wealth has also been targeted, and affluent Russians have lost over $95 billion as a result of sanctions.
But these Russians have not undermined Ukraine or called for its collapse; in fact, some have denounced the war against Ukraine. Yet, the world has accepted such measures as legal and necessary. When Egypt takes similar actions against those who want its destruction, human rights organisations consider them to be appalling.
There is nothing new in all this: some flaunt their arrogance and ignorance while incessantly distorting the truth. We have come to accept this attitude from the Western media. Will its approach ever change?
The writer is former professor of communication based in Vancouver, Canada.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly