Egypt launched its new National Strategy for Human Rights earlier this week from the New Administrative Capital. The strategy will run until 2026 and address civilian and political rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the rights of marginalised groups (women, children, disabled people, youth and the elderly), and education and capacity building in the human rights field.
Ayman Okeil, head of the NGO Maat Foundation for Peace, Development and Human Rights, said the decision to launch the strategy in the presence of representatives from human rights groups as well as government officials and political parties reflected the level of partnership and social dialogue that had gone into producing the document. “It is proof that dialogue between the state and civil society can produce positive results. Now it is important to build on the dialogue to achieve sustainable development,” he said.
The strategy is an attempt to codify rights and liberties in a single document, and allows for changes as and when they are needed to meet the demands of society.
During the launching ceremony, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi stressed that in the absence of respect for the rule of law the strategy cannot be effectively implemented. He also highlighted the importance of taking measures to ensure its principles are applied on the ground.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri hailed the National Strategy as a roadmap for human rights. Developing human rights, he said, “is a continuous and cumulative process that begins with the state’s commitment to uphold the dignity and safeguard the rights of its citizens”.
Shoukri said the document struck a balance between human rights in Egypt’s specific cultural and religious context, and the demands of national security and protection from terrorism.
Ahmed Ihab Gamaleddin, Egypt’s permanent representative to the UN and the secretary-general of the committee that drafted the strategy, said the document highlighted the right of citizens to participate in political life and form political parties while simultaneously developing public awareness of the importance of peaceful assembly.
The first test of the strategy will be the new draft labour law, expected to be discussed in parliament next month, said Gamaleddin. He added that the labour law will open a new chapter of strong partnership between the state and civil society, and affirm the latter’s role in protecting human rights.
Nazhat Shameem Khan, head of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), said the strategy was a “significant” step towards guaranteeing human rights.
“It targets translating the commitments into concrete steps on the ground, with the aim of strengthening the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as well as protecting the human rights of vulnerable segments, atop of which are women, children, challenged people and seniors,” she said in a recorded video message screened during the launching ceremony.
Khan praised Egypt for taking into account UNHRC’s recommendations on Egypt’s human rights file.
Arab Organisation for Human Rights head Alaa Shalabi echoed Shoukri in stressing that improving human rights is an accumulative process and that the five-year span of the strategy will not be the end. He also told the media that “Egypt this week joined a list of less than 50 countries worldwide that have a human rights strategy.”
Others were more sceptical. Political science professor Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed told Al-Ahram Weekly that judgement on the document will have to wait until it becomes clear how its provisions are being implemented. He also questioned why a human rights document should be given a shelf-life: “While economic and social documents can be linked to a timetable human rights principles are clear and should be applied immediately rather than in phases,” he said.
The strategy was prepared by the Supreme Permanent Committee for Human Rights which is chaired by the Foreign Ministry. The committee, established in 2018 by prime ministerial decree, comprises an advisory board of 25 representatives of government agencies, councils, and other organisations with a mandate to prepare a human rights strategy.
Charged with developing a clear structure for human rights in Egypt, the committee engaged in consultations and negotiations with a wide range of groups, including the National Council for Human Rights, parliament’s Human Rights Committee, the academic and business communities, and civil society. It also studied the human rights strategies of more than 30 countries.
A government official close to the drafting process conceded that while it had proved impossible to reach a consensus on all issues more work will be done to address continuing concerns by some stakeholders over extended pre-trial detention and political prisoners.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly