To meddle or not to meddle?

Azza Radwan Sedky
Tuesday 4 Jan 2022

Foreign interference in other countries’ judicial matters should be off limits since it poisons international relations and can lead to significant mistrust, writes Azza Radwan Sedky

Even prior to the trial of three Egyptian nationals in Cairo late last year, the German government predicted that things would go awry, presuming that the verdicts would be a foregone conclusion. 

It sounded the alarm in a threatening tone. “The upcoming pronouncement of a judgement on 20 December 2021 in the trial of the lawyer Mohamed Al-Baqer will show where the human rights situation in Egypt is heading,” the German government said, also calling on the Egyptian government to “ensure a fair trial and to release those charged.”

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry immediately rejected Germany’s “blatant and unjustified interference in the country’s internal affairs” in a statement, adding that “it would be better for the German government to heed its own internal challenges rather than to impose its guardianship on others.” 

The Foreign Ministry stressed that “assuming a specific outcome [of the trial] is utterly and categorically rejected as it represents a derogation of the judiciary, justice and the principles of the rule of law and the separation of powers that are stipulated in the Constitution.” 

The wording that the German government used in its statement was unsound since “ensuring a fair trial” does not necessarily entail “releasing those charged.” There should be fair trials, but their outcome should never be assumed. It would have been more direct and straightforward of Germany to call on the Egyptian government to free the detained – though that is not Germany’s prerogative, and the case has nothing to do with the German government.  

Once the verdicts were handed down, no further statements came from the German government.

However, soon afterwards another foreign power chose to react. US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price expressed his “disappointment” at the Egyptian judicial rulings. “Journalists, human rights defenders and others seeking to peacefully exercise their freedom of expression should be able to do so without facing criminal penalties, intimidation, harassment or any other form of reprisal,” he said.

In reply, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed Hafez said that “it is not permissible to address such judicial issues in any political framework or to link them to the course of relations between the two countries because of the unjustified complications that this would entail.” 

“It is absolutely not appropriate to comment in any way on, or refer to, rulings issued by the judiciary in the implementation of laws that are based on irrefutable, conclusive evidence within the framework of a fair, impartial and independent judicial process,” he said. 

The issue here concerns the consequences of such preemptive judgements on the part of foreign powers. Should they interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs and their handling of various issues and challenges? The answer is that undoubtedly interference in other countries’ judicial matters should be off limits. In essence, meddling is a method of political manipulation. 

These foreign powers believe that they are licenced to judge other countries and that it is within their rights to dictate to them. Well, they are not, and it isn’t. Only if the rights of a third party, a third country, for example, are being taken advantage of, or if the foreign power itself is being infringed upon, should there be any encroachment or infringement. Interference can never be warranted indiscriminately.  

Egypt would never give itself the right to violate another country’s judgements or criticise its judicial system by speaking ill of its legal verdicts or predicting them to be ungrounded or unjustified. So, why should other countries give themselves that right? 

According to the Washington-based National Museum of American Diplomacy, “the United States supports defenders of freedom in their efforts to establish democracies in their own countries and assists newly formed democracies in following democratic principles.” This in itself is dubious since it is unclear how the US can aid countries in establishing democracies without meddling. Does this aim give the US the right to infringe upon a nation’s judicial system? 

It goes without saying that the US and Germany in their preemptive judgements on last year’s case were trying to maintain their dominance, telling Egypt what to do and dictating their views on Egyptian judicial verdicts before and after they were released. 

In the larger scheme of things, interference and meddling can poison international relations and cause an unnecessarily inflamed discourse that can often lead to mistrust. More importantly, in some cases diplomatic pressure on the part of foreign powers has even led to more substantial reactions such as interventions. 

The majority of interventions fail miserably. All nations’ sovereignty and equality are enshrined in the United Nations Charter. No one country should enforce its ways on other countries even if it is a world power. 

According to the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, “the chaos and mess stirred up by such political manipulations will never cover up the fact that the US is trying to gain hegemonic control of other countries.” 

“Numerous hard facts have proved that the US is the main culprit threatening global political security as it has frequently interfered in and subverted other countries’ regimes, regarding such misdeeds as tools of foreign policy and causing a large number of tragedies that have plunged people into great misery and suffering,” it said.

There are times when intervention may become a necessary option, especially when humanitarian crises are about to unfold. But that is not to say that enforcing one’s views and ways over others is an acceptable choice. 

* The writer is the author of Cairo Rewind on the First Two Years of Egypt’s Revolution, 2011-2013.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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