Prioritising human rights

Essam Shiha
Tuesday 14 Sep 2021

Egypt’s New National Strategy for Human Rights reaffirms the priority the country gives to human rights and reflects the convictions of the whole of society

Not just Egypt but the entire international community witnessed President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s launch of the first National Strategy for Human Rights in Cairo last week.

In this document we find the true expression of the democratic substance of the new order established by the 30 June 2013 Revolution that rectified the course of the 25 January 2011 Revolution after it had been hijacked by a terrorist group bent on steering the country in a direction that conflicted with national interests, the principles of the modern state, and the Egyptian people’s aspirations for freedom and a life of dignity.

This is a strategy that is one hundred per cent Egyptian. It has arisen from the deeply felt conviction that Egypt is entitled to formulate its own national vision with no need to wait for others to correct it. After all, Egypt is the world’s oldest centralised state whose unique civilisational contributions have inspired humanity’s march towards progress for thousands of years.

The aims of the new strategy are also thoroughly Egyptian. The political leadership fully appreciates the enormous weight of the responsibilities it assumed when it received the popular mandate from the millions of citizens who declared their support for the president and who bore together with him the strains of setting the country on course to the place it merits among the advanced nations.

 It might be added that the latter would also benefit from the cumulative, lofty and humanitarian values of the Egyptian people, who have nevertheless had to put up with lessons from those who suppose they are in a position to give lectures on human rights, when it was the Egyptian people’s ancestors, the ancient Egyptians, who etched on temple walls thousands of years ago the degree of their civilisational advancement.  

The launch of Egypt’s first National Strategy for Human Rights reflects the country’s embrace of a strategic approach in all fields and endeavours. This means that we now have a document that reaffirms the priority the government gives to human rights as a main component of comprehensive national development in the framework of the Egypt Vision 2030 strategy for sustainable development.

The strategy is the product of concerted efforts on the part of many different parties whose patriotism and spirit of selfless dedication should make all of us feel proud. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri chaired the Supreme Standing Committee on Human Rights, which conducted the preparatory phase in the production of the strategy and one involving an extensive needs assessment on the enhancement and protection of human rights and basic freedoms.

The Committee adopted a consultative approach, engaging in open, frank, and, indeed, bold dialogue with various quarters of society. Members of the National Council for Human Rights and the parliament’s Human Rights Committee and representatives of professional and labour syndicates, research centres, universities, chambers of commerce, business associations and other civil society organisations, as well as a number of public figures and intellectuals, were invited to Committee sessions in order to present their ideas and suggestions.

As a result, the strategy unquestionably expresses the whole of Egyptian society.

It has set a five-year timeframe for its implementation from July 2021 to June 2026. This is indicative of Egypt’s belief that it is important not just to develop, but also to do more than what is expected of it. Egypt is determined not just to catch up to the point reached by other societies, but also to surpass them in unprecedented leaps and bounds.

Egypt believes that human rights are intrinsically interconnected and that they form an indivisible whole. The strategy offers many proofs of this outlook, the horizons of which extend well beyond the imagination of those who have criticised the state of human rights in Egypt, repeating the same things over and over again until they were often not worth responding to.

It is here that one finds one of the basic problems of human rights – the fact that they are all too easily politicised, made subordinate to special interests, and manipulated to serve ulterior motives and hidden agendas. Fortunately, the new strategy can easily hold its own against spurious attacks wherever they may come from given its four interrelated areas of focus on civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of women, children, young people, the elderly and persons with special needs, and human rights education and awareness building.

As President Al-Sisi has said, “all rights and freedoms are interrelated and mutually complementary. There is an intimate connection between democracy and human rights in the framework of a balance between individual rights and duties, a balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of society, and the need to combat corruption in order to ensure the ability to exercise rights and freedoms.”

The new National Strategy for Human Rights translates these convictions into action.

One final word should be said as we welcome Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights. The centrality of human rights in the world today can be no excuse to impose mandates on others or to violate the proper sovereignty of nations. Nor should it serve as a pretext for attempts to ignore the specificity of different societies steeped in their own history, civilisation and cultural components.

Those who have turned human rights into a trade need to know that respecting the specificity of the world’s different societies is also an integral part of respecting human rights.

*The writer is head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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