In a deeply disconcerting and objectionable manoeuvre, 175 members of the European Parliament have sent a joint letter to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) asking for the establishment of a human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt.
The letter is meddlesome, abusive, and injudicious. It delves into information that the 175 MEPs could hardly have known had they not been told what to say by contentious sources. The letter cites, often by name, those detained, charged, released, sentenced, and executed in Egypt. But it neglects to mention any wrongdoings committed by those mentioned, claiming instead that they were imprisoned for no particular reason or under false pretenses or tortured inside prison.
The letter also faults “the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi,” ignoring the fact that 33 million Egyptians called on Morsi to step down. It goes on to say that since then the “Egyptian authorities have been ruling the country with an iron fist, brutally and systematically repressing all forms of dissent,” as though Morsi’s rule was characterised by blissful equality and serenity.
It might be as well to inform the signatories of this letter that Egypt remains vulnerable today and that without the current control over potential disorder it could fall victim to the same turmoil faced by other states in the region that it also once faced.
In case the MEPs do not know, Egypt is surrounded by peril and by terrorists and extremists and those who would love to see the country plummet back to the mayhem that earlier existed. President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, replying to a journalist’s question, has said that he is responsible for 100 million Egyptians who live in turbulent times and alongside people who follow extremist modes of thought and do not like to co-exist in peace.
The letter falsely accuses Egypt of “arbitrarily detaining thousands of perceived dissidents.” But a case in point is the arrest of Hossam Menoufi Sallam, one of the founders of the terrorist group Hasm. Sallam was not in prison or “arbitrarily detained and tortured,” as some extremist websites have claimed, and which probably those who signed the letter accept. In fact, he was in Sudan when the Egyptian authorities tried him in absentia. His later arrest thus undermines the credibility of such rumours. May be the signatories to the European letter should check their stories.
The letter continues with a hodgepodge of slander. It argues that international organisations have documented a range of human rights abuses in Egypt, including the arbitrary detention of women on morality grounds, the trial of children along with adults, the continued crackdown on members of the LGBT community, and the arrest and prosecution of members of religious minorities on blasphemy charges.
But Egypt is not Europe. Its culture, norms, and social attitudes are different. Rather than apply Western standards to Egyptians, Europeans should accept Egyptians’ merits and idiosyncrasies for what they are worth.
As for religious minorities, I believe the signatories to the letter are confusing extremists with minorities. European countries have passed emergency laws to deal with similar threats to those that Egypt faces, and yet their positions have not been viewed as contrary to human rights standards. When it comes to Egypt, it is a different ballgame altogether.
Even the new Egyptian National Human Rights Strategy is, according to the letter, “drafted in an untransparent manner and without consultation with independent human rights organisations.” I wonder if the countries that the signatories belong to consult with international organisations before they set their laws. Who gives these countries the right to tell Egypt what to do?
The signatories to the letter are also concerned about the international community’s “persistent failure” to take action to address “Egypt’s human rights crisis.” They question the “continued support to the Egyptian government and reluctance to even speak up against pervasive abuses.”
In an effort to present the reaction of the international community to Egypt, the letter does exactly the opposite. It reiterates the international community’s acknowledgement of Egypt’s role in regional security, stability, and migration management and the statements made by officials on high level visits and in bilateral meetings that often praise the Egyptian government.
Both the international community and the UN will be reluctant to act on the demands set out in the European letter. The international community is very much aware of the role that a stable Egypt plays amidst the havoc that persists in the region, and it stands behind Egypt in its efforts to protect its land and citizens.
In contrast to the picture the letter draws, Egypt today is living through its best years by opening up to the world at large, reaping the fruits of its citizens’ tenacious and zealous efforts, and providing a better life for all – matters that the letter fails to observe or cares to mention. These successes are what human rights are all about; disappointingly, these European parliamentarians have only jaded perceptions.
Despite the picture presented in the letter, Egyptian diplomats participate in peacekeeping summits worldwide and mediate on regional issues. Egypt will also host the UN Climate Change Conference 2022 (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh later this year. In the light of the strategic relations between China and Egypt, Egypt’s president is in China at present at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The UN is also very much aware of the role Egypt plays in the region. In October 2021, while celebrating 76 years of partnership and close cooperation with Egypt, the UN resident coordinator in Egypt expressed her deep appreciation to the government and the “long-standing cooperation in maintaining global peace, security and sustainable development. Egypt has always been a key contributor to the United Nations and a strong multilateral partner,” she said.
The MEPs who signed the recent letter believe that they are licensed to judge other countries and that it is within their rights to dictate their rules. Well, they are not, and it isn’t. The vision they present is unsound, exaggerated, and intentionally authoritarian. More importantly, it is an assault on Egypt’s sovereignty and its right to govern its people.
Pressuring the Egyptian government does not work. Working with the Egyptian government will.
* 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 10 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.