New members of state body the National Council for Human Rights were announced by Egypt’s government on Thursday.
The previous members had been appointed under president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted in July.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi announced the 25 members in a decree on Thursday. A number of prominent rights activists are featured on the list, including Hossam Bahgat, founder and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Hafez Abu Saada head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, rights lawyer and activist Rajia Omran, long time farmers’ rights activist Shahenda Maklad, and Nasser Amin, director of the Cairo-based Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession.
The council is to be headed by Mohamed Fayek, a former secretary-general of the Arab Human Rights Organization and a former Nasser-era minister of information, an era when media freedoms heavily restricted. Fayek was previously vice-president of the NCHR at its inception in 2003.
The head of the leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr was appointed the council’s vice-president.
Shokr was also appointed vice president of the NHCR under Morsi but tendered his resignation after the former president’s controversial constitutional declaration last November.
Speaking to Ahram Online, Shahenda Maklad said she was “honoured” to have been selected as a member of the council, and said that she believed that the new members give a varied representation of human rights work in Egypt.
She criticised the former council for being “mainly Islamist” and said that it had not made its presence felt.
“I hope this council has an active role in the coming phase,” she told Ahram Online.
George Ishaq, a veteran political activist and leading member of the anti-Morsi National Salvation Front, was also appointed to the council on Thursday. He told Al-Ahram’s Arabic news website that one of the priorities he hoped the council will adopt is the creation of investigative committees to try to find out the truth behind recent events in Egypt.
The dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins last week by police forces led to over 300 deaths, according to a recent report by Human Rights Watch. The dispersals were followed by further violence between pro-Morsi protesters and security forces, and attacks on churches and government buildings allegedly by Morsi sympathisers.
Ishaq told Al-Ahram that while forming such committees takes time, he believes they are of utmost importance in the transitional stage.
The previous NCHR members were appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated upper house Shura Council, a legislative body which has since been dissolved. It was headed by Judge Hossam El-Gheriani, who was also head of the constituent assembly which drafted Egypt’s controversial 2012 constitution.
The constitution is now being amended as part of a military-sponsored roadmap set forth in agreement with much of the opposition after Morsi’s ouster.
The previous NCHR was accused of hosting Muslim Brotherhood figures and allies who had scant experience in the human rights field, for example controversial Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy, who is currently being investigated on charges of inciting violence.