Mr Al-Sisi, we need to talk about human rights

The president of Egypt, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi.

Since taking power in 2013, the president of Egypt, Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi has been criticised for violent repressions of oppositions and of minorities. Despite the protests of human rights organizations, he continues to seem untouchable.

Egypt has been exposed to multiple political changes since the Revolution began in Tahrir Square on January 25th, 2011. It stands as the start of rising movement of the Arab Springs; citizens under autocratic and semi-democratic regimes were going out into the streets demanding more free and democratically run elections, more rights, and a new fresh start. In the case of Egypt, the anti-government protests were insisting that President Hosni Mubarak should step down. Even though, the military attempted to repress the Tahrir Square protesters, the resistance was too strong and eventually lead to President Mubarak resigning and Egypt embarked on a new presidential election. On June 24th, 2012, Mohamed Morsy, leader of the Freedom and Justice Party and an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president. However, his government only lasted one year as a result of the general al- Sisi gaining power with a coup d’état in July 2013.

Protesters in UK against the arrival of al-Sisi.

Al-Sisi’s presidency has been looked upon by the Western governments with both caution and relief; as the General did provide a certain degree of order in the midst of all chaos the Arab Spring caused the Middle-Eastern countries. However, this assumed stability hides the reality of abuses and repressions perpetrated by the Egyptian police and army. Human Rights Watch reported that “between July 2013 and June 2014 the authorities detained, charged, or sentenced at least 41,000 people”. This data presents the intentions of the regime to use the iron fist against every potential opposition coming from political and social movements. One of the bloodiest example of the new regime’s repression occurred August 14th, 2013, when, according to Human Rights Watch “security forces the major pro-Morsy sit-in in Rab’a al-Adawiya Square in the Nasr City district of eastern Cairo”. The protests led to 900 people being killed and, – more than 1,000 were injured, however, even after this, the current reality has not shown any improvements in terms of civil rights. In its monthly report against state’s abuses, the NGO Al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence denounced 53 extrajudicial assassinations, 7 deaths in detention places, 23 victims of torture, 99 forced disappearances and, -22 complaints of medical malpractice.

The Western society started paying attention to al-Sisi’s repression in 2016, when Giulio Regeni, a 28-old graduate student mysteriously vanished on January 25th, and  was eventually found dead on February 3rd, along a street of Cairo. His body had apparent signs of torture. Amnesty International launched a campaign under the slogan “Truth for Giulio Regeni” with the aim of putting pressure on both the Egyptian and Italian government to bring justice for the Italian researcher and to find out why he had been butchered. After almost two years and, – despite a constant demand from the Regeni family for the truth, it became apparent that the two governments prioritised their economic and political partnership and did not want it to be affected by the death of Giulio Regeni. This caused an alarming slowing down of the investigation. Egypt is an important Mediterranean ally for countries like Italy, as it can control and contain the migration waves coming from Africa and the Middle East. Thus, the murder of Giulio Regeni and the evidence of al-Sisi’s repression of free press, NGOs and civic society did not prevent European countries from creating agreements and partnerships with the regime. They made no attempt to put pressure on al- Sisi about the alarming human rights issues in Egypt.

Amnesty International activists protesting in France during the meeting of al-Sisi with Emmanuel Macron.

Although realpolitik, a system of politics that focuses mainly on practical rather than moral considerations dominates the alliances among Egypt and its state partners, the horrifying death of a Western citizen such as Giulio Regeni, arose attention among citizens about the repression occurring in Egypt. Social media campaigns have been promoted to make users aware of Egyptian human rights activists, journalists, common people detained in jail and of the restrictions of freedom. Therefore, the campaign #SpeakUp4Egypt was organized ahead of the International Day for Human Rights. Scrolling over Twitter, it is possible to get informed about the reasons why people were incriminated and sentenced to jail or death. These crimes involve denouncing the abuses committed by the Egyptian repression machine or taking part in anti-government protests. Aside from this online campaign, NGOs and international human rights organizations continue to monitor and report al Sisi’s repression of any version of opposition of every element not fitting in his regime. In the last two months, – as reported by Amnesty International– people of the LBTQ community have been the primary targets of attacks. Today, more than 70 people have been arrested, 40 plus have been sentenced to six years of prison, at least 5 people have been tortured and been through inhuman treatments.

On November 4th, general al-Sisi inaugurated the World Youth Forum, an international conference hosted at Sharm El Sheikh. The slogan was “We Need to Talk”, as it aimed to speak about the successes of his government. So, yes, Mr al-Sisi, we need to talk. Not about the successes of your government, but about human rights, about the crimes of your regime.

Giulia Masciavé

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