Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine El-Qabbaj and former Foreign Minister Mohamed El-Orabi as well as experts, academia, media figures and politicians asserted that President Abdel- Fattah El-Sisi pays great and unprecedented attention to human rights and private and public freedoms, especially in light of the current democratic atmosphere and the rule of law prevailing in the country.
During their participation in a symposium organized by MENA, titled “Human Rights in Egypt…. Reality and Guarantees”, they criticized some organizations for obtaining information about the human rights status in Egypt from the terrorist-designated Muslim Brotherhood Group that considers those who kill, shed blood, and attack innocent civilians, mosques and churches as “political prisoners”.
The symposium, run by MENA Board Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Ali Hassan, was attended by Nevin Massad, a professor of political science at Cairo University and a member of the National Council for Human Rights; Ayman Salama, a professor of international law; and Shaimaa Abd El-Elah, a member of the Coordination of Parties Youth and Politicians.
Social and economic rights as human rights
Speaking at the event, the social solidarity minister said her ministry attaches special importance to ensuring the provision of social and economic rights to the neediest segments of the society.
She revealed that Egypt was one of the first countries that joined international agreements on the rights of women, children and people with special needs, citing that the Egyptian Constitution of 2014 guaranteed the rights of these segments.
El-Qabbaj pointed out to the prime minister’s decision on forming a ministerial committee for social justice, asserting it demonstrates the government’s determination to go ahead with the implementation of social protection policies.
She concluded that the NGO draft law approved by the Cabinet will come into light soon.
The Ministry of Social Solidarity pays special attention to secure economic and social rights for the neediest nationwide, El-Qabbaj said.
Advocating for human rights has been all the rage over the past six years; and Egypt prides itself on the fact that it was among the first states to sign the international conventions on the rights of women, children and people with special needs, the minister added.
In addition, the country's commitment to human rights was also made clear in the Egyptian constitution of 2014, which affirmed certain rights for various segments of the society, including, women, children and people with special needs; and all segments of the Egyptian society were represented in the parliament, the minister added.
She noted that the prime minister's decision to form a ministerial social justice committee further demonstrates the government's keenness on following up the adequate implementation of state social care and protection policies to meet the citizens' most prominent demands in the 25 January and 30 June revolutions. Moreover, the cabinet has recently approved the regulations of NGOs Law No. 149/2020, which will be issued soon.
Giving an overview of the ministry's efforts to reduce poverty through geographical targeting and to reach out to those in need the most, including women, children and people with disabilities, El-Qabbaj noted that the number of beneficiaries from the ministry's Takaful and Karama cash transfer program has so far amounted to 3.8 million households nationwide.
The ministry has also managed to provide support to 20,000 street children since the program was launched in mid-2016, she pointed out.
The minister also praised the active role played by women and youth in society-related issues in general, especially the major role of the Egyptian Red Crescent (ERC) volunteers to assist in the fight against COVID-19 and many other challenges.
Further on the ministry's role to fulfill citizens' essential needs, the minister stressed that the issue of human rights should not be sheer rhetoric; rather, certain indicators are supposed to reflect if such rights are consolidated in the real world.
Therefore, Egypt has always been keen on dealing with poverty as a multidimensional phenomenon, not just as a lack of money as mostly viewed, conditioning eligibility of needy families for cash support upon their children's regular school attendance to ensure their full enjoyment to the right to education.
The ministry's approach also involved paying regular visits to healthcare offices to ensure the beneficiaries' enjoyment of adequate medical care.
Statistically speaking, the ministry offers support to more than 50 percent of the poor population in cooperation with the relevant ministries, NGOs and private bodies, El-Qabbaj said.
She noted that such cooperation is the crowning achievement of the ministry's policy, which views development as not just the responsibility of the government or a particular ministry, but as a social responsibility requiring participatory approach.
She also stressed that coordination, especially by linking relevant databases, had a great positive effect on the accurate targeting of aid recipients.
The president's "Decent Life" initiative is an example to follow to support the neediest households in the State's poorest villages, she said. It also reflects President El-Sisi's appreciation of the Egyptian countryside and the communities and villages in most need, and his awareness that the results of development should serve in meeting the needs of these areas and alleviating the suffering of their inhabitants, she added.
The initiative aims at reinforcing social, economic and cultural development and securing basic services in poor villages and supporting those in need the most to improve indicators of social protection and employment, in line with the state's Sustainable Development Gaols for 2030.
Committed to offering safe housing opportunities for unprivileged households, the ministry is currently engaged in a project to provide these people with housing units in new cities which have industrial zones to offer job opportunities in various factories, the minister pointed out.
She added that the ministry owns 539 housing units, transferred by the Housing Ministry, in nine cities, including: 6th of October, New Borg El Arab, El Sadat, El Shorouk, Sheikh Zayed, Badr, New Salhiya, New Damietta and 15th of May City; these units are available under one-year beneficial ownership contracts that are renewable as long as eligibility requirements are met and all financial obligations are paid, provided that the breadwinner permanently stays with his family in the unit.
Moreover, based on the ministry's field research on all applicants who met the general requirements, the ministry identifies those who are eligible or not according to certain rules and criteria for those in most need of a housing unit.
So far, the number of people who benefited from the ministry's housing units has amounted to 446 families, El-Qabbaj said.
She added that the president's directives also included supporting the role of day care nurseries by streamlining their licensing procedures, establishing more nurseries in all governorates, improving nursery standards and providing adequate training for nursery workers.
El-Qabbaj indicated that out of the 24,769 nurseries nationwide, 14,821 are licensed, while the other 10,488 are not, noting that the ministry is trying to handle this problem through a special committee for unlicensed nurseries, which was formed under Prime Minister Decision No. 2371/2020.
As part of the ministry's youth support and training efforts, El-Qabbaj also touched upon a ministry training program to promote the values of citizenship and participation and raise young people's awareness of labor-related laws, such as Civil Service Law No. 81/2020.
The program targets over 100,000 female public servants on an annual basis, the minister said, noting that as many as 34,000 young people of both sexes have already received training under the program.
The ministry has also set up 27 units at Egyptian universities to directly offer its services to young people.
The minister further noted that the political leadership's interest in youth-related issues and promoting youth social engagement after training them became clear at the international youth conferences held under the auspices and in the presence of President El-Sisi to listen to and talk with them.
She added that the establishment of the National Training Academy consolidates the state's youth support policy.
Finally, the minister said that she takes pride and pleasure in President El-Sisi's support of Egyptian women, appreciating their role in every occasion, asserting the importance of their role in the society and directing the government to do whatever it takes to ease women's lives.
Human rights: Integrated vision
Meanwhile, Ambassador Mohamed El-Oraby, a former foreign minister, said Egypt is moving ahead in a steady pace in the infrastructure file to offer better human rights conditions, pointing out that the human rights issue was listed in the political tools to practice pressure on some countries over the past ten years.
“No country in the world has a completely good record in human rights, even the United States,” El-Oraby stated, explaining: “Being in prison in the United States means that your life is over as it is the case in Turkey as well.”
The former foreign minister pointed out to a gap in concepts between Egypt and some foreign countries, clarifying that Egypt touches on an integrated and objective concept of human rights, including the right to health, security, education, social care, and clean air.
The concept of human rights abroad is more complicated, as it tackles freedom of speech, press, cultural freedom, and democracy, he said, adding that these concepts address a specific portion of human rights, not an integrated vision.
El-Oraby stressed that Egypt adheres to all human rights conventions, pointing out that some countries are targeted regarding their human rights conditions, while the world keeps silent over some countries after a series of massive violations of human rights.
The European Parliament became a pressure tool on Egypt over the past years by issuing statements that need to be responded to, El-Oraby underlined, noting that it represents populists and green parties that exploit any incident for political purposes.
The demands of international human rights organizations are hilarious which could not be accepted by any country, he said, affirming that these demands will continue to press Egypt in the coming period.
He asserted that the House of Representatives and Egyptian human rights organizations should play their role well, as well as forming friendships between the Egyptian parliament and its European or French counterparts.
He called on the human rights organizations in Egypt to wisely respond to any allegations from any international organizations, urging the state to support the Egyptian human rights organizations within the coming period to prove their credibility abroad.
On his part, MENA Board Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Ali Hassan said, a great and unprecedented attention has been attached to citizens and their basic rights over the past six years, citing the political leadership embodied in President El-Sisi and various state bodies placing the Egyptian citizen at the core of their interest, a matter that became materialized through numerous achievements, accomplishments and legislations achieved on the ground.
The MENA board chairman and editor-in-chief also highlighted President El-Sisi’s keenness on human rights and citizens’ freedom in its broader sense that incorporates all political, economic, social, as well as other dimensions that guarantee the right of a stable and decent life to all citizens, amid an atmosphere of democracy, rule of law, and ensuring public and private life.
Regarding political rights, Hassan said the state has guaranteed the freedom of establishing political parties, representing various political views and delivering their message in light of an atmosphere of full freedom.
“The state has succeeded in meeting its constitutional entitlements targets over the past six years, including organizing presidential elections twice, holding the House of Representatives elections for two seasons, as well as the of formation of the second legislative chamber - the Senate - in line with introducing new changes to related election laws, that in turn resulted in an unprecedented wide participation on the part of political parties, along with a tangible female contribution in the election process, as well as more participation from youths, people with special needs, laborers, peasants and Egyptians abroad,” Hassan said.
The MENA board chairman and editor-in-chief highlighted the state’s guaranteeing freedom of work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), citing abolishment of imprisonment as a punishment related to civil society issues and introducing articles facilitating work of different organizations operating in the civil society domain, enabling them to carry out their role in serving the society.
Hassan noted that the state has managed to improve conditions of poor and low-income brackets via injecting a number of initiatives encompassing in cash aid as embodied in “Takaful and Karama Cash Transfer Program” and “Egypt’s 100 Million Health Lives Campaign”, not to mention the establishment of a comprehensive health insurance system that has already started operating in a number of governorates, ahead of being activated nationwide.
Hassan accentuated the great importance President El-Sisi attaches to eradicating slums and moving residents of all unsafe areas to decent housing alternatives, equipped with all essential needs.
He said Egypt has never known what is being dubbed as “political trials”, as being alleged by the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group, adding that all trials in Egypt run in line with law as all defendants are being tried according to judiciary, each within its entitled court.
“Despite the fierce battle Egypt is going through in fighting terrorism, the state is fully keen on respecting human rights and guaranteeing freedom of expression,” he said.
Hassan further deplored the fact that some organizations in the west get misleading false information about human rights in Egypt from fleeing members of the banned group that are completely “baseless” and “bare” of truth.
He added that Egypt has been a target of a ferocious campaign, under the disguise of a fake advocate of human rights’ slogans, an evil intrigue meant to foil the great success Egypt has managed to achieve down the road towards its economic process and nip in the bud its great contribution to realizing regional and international security and stability.
Hassan asserted that having the Egyptian people standing four square behind President El-Sisi, the Egyptian army and police and all state institutions, Egypt will continue pressing ahead with its process of stability, construction and development, within an atmosphere of freedom.
Meanwhile, Political Science Professor at Cairo University Neveen Masaad said the political leadership has never abandoned its conviction about the significance of women’s role, in a way that asserts the persistence of such an approach through the effective presence of woman in state’s decision-making process.
Masaad, who is also a member of the National Council for Human Rights, has attributed the mounting trend of addressing the human rights file to the rise of democrats at the White House, a matter which is linked to this wing that exploits the human rights file to put pressure on nations.
She urged not bowing to such pressure, especially amidst the profound bilateral and international relations as well as ties with the think-tanks and intellectuals.
Inviting politicians, researchers and intellectuals along with think-tanks to visit Egypt is one of crucial steps, in order to prevent others abroad from conveying a tarnished image about us, Masaad said, pointing out to a number of organizations operating abroad that issue reports defaming the situation in Egypt.
Progress on women's rights
The university professor spoke of the progress achieved as regards the file of women’s rights particularly under President El-Sisi at the legislative, planning and measures levels.
The current achievements in the status of women’s rights are result of prolonged efforts which have started in 1956, Massad said, pointing out to president El-Sisi’s frequent acknowledgment of women’s key participation during the 30 June revolution, 2013, alongside bearing the burden of the adopted economic reforms.
The Sustainable Development Goals strategy, Egypt’s Vision 2030, seeks benefiting women as a vital part of the society along with the state’s strategy for 2017, which sought empowering women at the political, economic and social levels, along with protecting her from violence.
Since 2013, a set of law have been enacted to empower women by toughening up punishment for crimes committed against women and giving her equal opportunities at workplaces, Masaad said.
As for the political level, the parliamentary quota of women has been upped to 25 percent, while key eight ministerial portfolios are currently occupied by women, accounting for 25 percent of the cabinet, she went on to say.
The West's lacking record on human rights
Dr. Ayman Salama, a professor of international law, said he would have wished that the European and American motive and concern in all matters related to human rights had been defending the universality of human rights, and the principle of equality between large and small states as stipulated in the UN Charter - not expressing such abhorrent racial superiority attitudes.
Such superiority makes European and American think tanks imagine that the European and American nation and race are the best, most complete, and most consistent with nature, he added.
The professor said US President Donald Trump has recently pardoned a number of citizens, some of whom have committed serious war crimes in Iraq and have been indicted by US courts.
“That pardon is nothing short of a burial of justice, a violation of the judicial authority, and a demolition of the principle of separation of powers, while it also establishes the vice of impunity,” he asserted.
As for Italy, Salama said, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on December 15, 2016 that Italy had violated the European Convention on Human Rights in regard to the holding of migrants on the island of Lampedusa, then on ships in Palermo harbor.
The court found that Italy had deprived the migrants of liberty, security and remedy after arresting them without legal basis, he added.
According to statistics from the European Court of Human Rights on the European countries' violations of the European Convention on Human Rights from 1959 to 2019, Italy was ranked first with 2,410 violations, including 1,197 related to the length of trials in the country, and 1,733 in connection with degrading treatment, 286 with regard to the right to a fair trial, and 43 linked to the right to freedom and security, the professor noted.
Salama went on to say that the European court’s statistics also showed that nine violations have been recorded in regard to the prohibition of torture, six in relation to the lack of criminal investigations into cases, and three in connection with the right to life.
The professor added that the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has recently ruled that Italy had colluded with the Libyan Government of National Accord in Tripoli to commit serious crimes against migrants, noting that this complicity reflects the Italian State’s policy in a systematic manner.
On that score, he said Italy pays the salaries of Libyan staffers at reception centers for those migrants, adding that the European country provides equipment, funding and trainers to the Libyan Coast Guard.
Salama noted that France came second after Italy in the European court’s statistics.
The professor underscored the need to develop the legal discourse, indicating that Egypt is committed to all international human rights covenants as stipulated in the Egyptian constitution.
Egypt has dealt with the refugees file in a professional way and did not use it as a pressure card, such as what some countries have done, Salama said.
Meanwhile, spokesperson for the political parties' Youth Coordination Committee (YCC) Shaimaa Abdel-Elah said the Western view of human rights in Egypt is narrow.
She added that human rights include the right to life and the right to security, in addition to paying attention to women, youth, and people with special abilities and other categories who were not granted their rights in the past.
The YCC is clear evidence of youth empowerment in Egypt, Abdel-Elah said, noting that a number of youths in the committee have held senior government positions, and some others have been elected in parliament.
She noted that providing job opportunities via national projects launched by the State is an aspect of human rights, namely the right to life.
Abdel-Elah added that the Egyptian government has launched many initiatives in all sectors, especially the health and social ones, such as the 100 Million Healthy Lives initiative, the universal health insurance project, and the national plan meant to eliminate Hepatitis C.
As for the social sector, she highlighted the initiatives launched by the State such as Decent Life, and Takaful and Karama, among similar other initiatives.
She also shed light on the Survival Boats presidential initiative that aims to protect the Egyptian people from illegal immigration, as part of the State’s efforts to preserve human rights.