House of Representatives’ Speaker Hanafi Gibali’s visits to Belgium and Spain over the last 10 days offered an opportunity to showcase Egypt’s advances in the fields of democratisation and human rights.
During a two-day visit to Belgium on 2 and 3 December Gibali met with his Belgian counterpart Eliane Tillieux. The meeting came ahead of the Seventh Summit of the Speakers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean (PA-UFM), held in Brussels on 3 and 4 December.
“From time to time we hear voices in the European Union and European Parliament criticising Egypt over human rights and illegal migration. It was important to use my visit to Brussels to meet with Tillieux and discuss these issues,” said Gibali.
According to an official statement, Gibali told Tillieux that Egypt is proud of its relations with Belgium and interested in coordinating and exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest. Egypt also seeks to foster greater parliamentary cooperation between Cairo and Brussels, said Gibali.
Gibali highlighted Egypt’s efforts in combating terrorism, stengthening citizenship, and espousing religious tolerance and equality, and explained how Egypt’s Vision 2030 is a programme based on achieving sustainable and comprehensive development to create a competitive and balanced economy.
The two parliamentarians held a question-and-answer session during which Tillieux said the EU was concerned about Egypt’s use of the death penalty. Responding, Gibali said that as a former judge and president of the Supreme Constitutional Court, he could confirm the independence of the judiciary in Egypt.
“The regime never intervenes to push courts to issue rulings that help it get rid of political opponents, and with regard to death penalty rulings, they must be unanimously approved by all the judges hearing a case,” said Gibali. He added that capital verdicts in Egypt are very few, and of these few the majority apply to drug traffickers and leaders of terrorist organisations.
In raising illegal migration, Tillieux said the EU remains worried not only about migrants from North African countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, but those from sub-Saharan African countries who use Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia as transit points to reach European shores.
Gibali responded that Egypt’s Law 82/2016 tackling illegal migration had been effective in stemming the flow of illegal migrants to the EU, and that since it was passed not a single illegal migrant had been able to use Egypt’s shores to cross the Mediterranean.
He added that Egypt is currently hosting six million migrants who have full rights.
Asked about Egypt’s new human rights strategy, announced by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in September, Gibali clarified that it will run until 2026 and addresses political, economic, social and cultural rights, and protects the most vulnerable, including women, children, the disabled and elderly. “It is a strategy that lays the foundation stone for democracy and respect for the rule of law and human rights,” he said.
Gibali also reviewed Egypt’s efforts in fighting terrorism, outlining how Egypt emerged victorious from its eight-year war against terrorist organisations to fully recover its stability.
Tillieux described the dialogue with Gibali was “very fruitful”. “I heard complete answers from Speaker Gibali about Egypt’s progress in the area of human rights, respect of minorities, fighting terrorism and illegal migration,” she said, adding she was looking forward to visiting Egypt next month.
Tillieux said a strong Egypt serves the interests of Europe in general, and Belgium in particular, that “a stable Egypt is very important to Europe, and we highly appreciate Egypt’s role in stemming the flow of illegal migrants.”
The Seventh Summit of the Speakers of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union for the Mediterranean (PA-UFM) focused on the issue of climate change and its impact on Mediterranean countries.
Meanwhile, in his speech at the summit, Gibali said Egypt is playing an effective role in combating climate change at the international and regional levels, proved by the fact it will host the COP27 summit on climate change in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2022.
In Madrid Gibali attended the two-day meeting of the 143th Inter-Parliamentary Union’s Assembly on 27-28 November, which focused on democracy. Gibali said that while democracy is essential to to participate in the decision-making process and achieve stability, a problem had arisen “in recent years with attempts to impose rigid forms of democracy on societies regardless of cultural and historical specificities.”
Gibali argued that Egypt has been able to reinforce the values of democracy, citizenship and equality because “it lost confidence in democracy.”
“Even during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic Egypt held elections for the House of Representatives and the Senate,” said Gibali.
“Egypt remains committed to furthering democracy hand-in-hand with development and social solidarity initiatives.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.