In a conference held at the New Administrative Capital on 11 September, Egypt launched a new National Strategy for Human Rights. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi announced that 2022 would be the year of civil society, urging the sector to cooperate with state institutions to “spread awareness of the culture of human rights and contribute to achieving the aspirations of the Egyptian people”.
The announcement of Egypt’s National Strategy for Human Rights came four days after New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report claiming to detail “extrajudicial executions in Egypt”. Political analysts and civil society activists in Egypt condemned the report as politicised and inaccurate.
Yasser Abdel-Aziz, a media and human rights expert, said in a TV interview on 11 September that Egypt’s conference on a new Strategy for Human Rights “was not a response to HRW’s report”.
“The strategy was drafted a long time ago… that it was made public four days after HRW’s report is a coincidence,” said Abdel-Aziz.
It is not the first time HRW has made allegations about extrajudicial killings in Egypt, Abdel-Aziz continued. “Every state has the right to defend itself against terrorists and it is the Interior Ministry which has the largest responsibility in thwarting terrorist attacks. Since the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power, the Interior Ministry has faced waves of terrorist attacks in which hundreds of ordinary citizens, police and soldiers have been killed, with different organisations such as the North Sinai-based Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis, Hasm, and Agnad Masr claiming responsibility.”
According to Abdel-Aziz, the new HRW report describes members of these organisations as “alleged terrorists”, and the Interior Ministry’s pre-emptive actions against these organisations as “extrajudicial executions”.
“The problem with HRW is that it is a politicised organisation that forms part of the American left which includes media outlets such as the CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times, all of which have been in vocal support of political Islam against what they call Arab dictatorships,” said Abdel-Aziz.
The Guardians of the Nation Party issued a statement characterising the report as “an open defence of terrorist organisations which have caused havoc in Egypt since the Muslim Brotherhood was forced out of office in 2013”.
Yasser Al-Hodeibi, a senator and professor of constitutional law and human rights, agrees that “the HRW is a politicised organisation aggressive to the Egyptian state”. Since the Muslim Brotherhood regime was ousted from office, HRW has turned itself a mouthpiece for this group, defending its crimes in the form of politicised reports and statements, argues Al-Hodeibi. “Not only do HRW’s reports use politically hostile language against the Egyptian state and President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in person, but they incite Western governments to impose sanctions on Egypt.”
“HRW is a radical leftist American organisation that supports chaos and disintegration, takes the side of terrorist movements, and aims to intimidate and castigate national security forces entrusted with imposing order and discipline.”
HRW devotes much of the report to attacking the post-Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt and like the leftist Washington Post and the New York Times the report repeats claims that Egypt has been in crisis since what they call “the military overthrow” of the Brotherhood regime in 2013. The report concludes by asking “the international community” to enforce an arms embargo on Egypt.
According to MP Ayman Mehasib, “not only does the HRW report attack the Interior Ministry for using the term shootouts, ignoring the fact that hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed in these confrontations, but it also describes the criminals attacking security forces in these shootouts as ‘alleged terrorists’”.
The Egyptian Alliance for Human Rights and Development (EAHRD) condemned the report for its lack of neutrality and inaccuracy. “That an organisation claiming to defend human rights releases a report lacking accurate information and independent analysis, is deplorable,” said EAHRD.
“The absence of neutrality that we see in this latest HRW report serves only to encourage terrorist groups and movements to carry out violent attacks on the Egyptian people.”
“HRW has clearly adopted the viewpoint of the Muslim Brotherhood, taking information provided by members of this organisation as undisputed fact.”
In failing to check or verify this information, HRW has produced a report “lacking coherence, based on points that are adequately documented, and which only serves the political goals of its writers”.
“Civil society, including human rights organisations, should always seek independence and impartiality, keep away from politicised agendas, document violations and abuses by citing different sources, verifying facts, and using clear language that should not reflect any political affiliations,” advised EAHRD.
The alliance urged Western civil society organisations not to use human rights to settle political accounts or for political extortion. “Releasing politicised reports will not serve the human rights, though it could give terrorist organisations a cover to commit crimes,” it warned.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly