The statement by 31 nations on the situation of human and civil rights in Egypt, read out by Finland at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last Friday, has sparked an outcry. This is against the image that Western governments have of current circumstances in Egypt, the extent to which such Western reports rely on information derived from groups opposed to the Egyptian government, and the way a single conduit of information shapes reports that Cairo believes obscure and belittles Egypt’s strenuous efforts to improve economic conditions in the country and raise the standards of living of the Egyptian people.
The Egyptian parliament issued a stern response to the joint statement by UNHRC members. “The House of Representatives strongly condemns and rejects that statement in its entirety because of the politicised aims it expresses, an unbalanced, destructive and tendentious approach that relies on hearsay, lies and misleading claims, as well as the assessment that also relied on what is disseminated by certain media controlled by malicious parties.
“It would have been worthier for the Human Rights Council to derive its information and statements from official sources,” the parliamentary statement continued, faulting the UNHRC for failing to adopt an objective perspective that embraced Egyptian efforts to preserve security and stability, “not just domestically but also at the regional level, especially in the field of the fight against terrorism under extremely complex and turbulent circumstances,” and that also appreciated Egypt’s “clear and profound efforts to improve the livelihood of Egyptian people as evidenced by the development boom that has continued even during the confrontation against the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The Egyptian Judges’ Club held that the statement issued by 31 UNHRC members contained “numerous fallacies that conflict with the guarantees of judicial autonomy.” In a statement released on Saturday, the judicial association stressed that the constitutional and legal guarantees and safeguards for human rights have remained in force without interruption during the implementation of the anti-terrorism law which is inspired by “a clear vision for striking a balance between the fight against terrorism and the need to guarantee human rights by means of certain rules and procedures that sustain the general framework of due process, safeguard human rights and ensure that the practice of these rules and procedures is subject to the supervision of the judiciary.”
The controversial statement exposes the gulf between those circles abroad whose approach to rights issues is based on biased media reports or organisations funded by states and groups that are hostile to the authorities in Egypt, and the perceptions of the Egyptian government itself, which believes it has been the victim of endless pressure since the Egyptian people overthrew Muslim Brotherhood rule on 30 June 2013, after which the forces of terrorism unleashed waves of fear and violence in Sinai and the Nile Valley, indiscriminately killing civilians, military servicemen and police. Unfortunately, the war on terrorism that Egypt has been waging on behalf of the world, as President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and other leaders have described it, has had little effect on organisations that lend their ears to certain voices, some of which seek only to overthrow the government in Egypt by inciting violence and promoting Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups from abroad bent on plunging the country into anarchy and mayhem.
But perhaps the current furore surrounding the statement by Western members of the UNHRC presents an opportunity for a frank and open discussion between the Egyptian government, the governments that criticise it and the organisations that incessantly reiterate the same allegations. The Egyptian statements cited above and others are severe, but they all at the same time confirm that the opportunity is there to clarify the real situation in Egypt and to address negative points on concrete legal foundations whether these concern political rights, the law of preemptive detention or the rights of certain minorities in Egyptian society. There is a general conviction among government agencies in Egypt that eliminating the confusion surrounding rights issues and rectifying erroneous practices is the best way to promote Egypt as it pursues its comprehensive development programmes that have the betterment of health, education, standards of living and other aspects of human life at their heart.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 March, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly