President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was keen to respond to criticisms of Egypt’s human rights record during last week’s World Youth Forum (WYF), and said reporting by Western human rights organisations on the human rights situation in Egypt was often inaccurate.
During a simulation model of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session held on 11 January, President Al-Sisi said Egypt had an integrated and comprehensive approach to human rights.
“In discussing human rights, we must take into account the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In this respect, let us note how Western countries violated human rights in terms of restricting freedom of movement during the pandemic. They took this measure because they saw that in such a case supreme national interests must come first while respect of human rights takes a back seat,” said Al-Sisi.
Human rights cannot be limited to freedom of expression and political pluralism, said the president, but must include economic and social rights. “This is our vision of human rights. We are a country which has a high growth rate of population which is increasing by 2.5 million every year. From our perspective, high quality education, healthcare, and employment are fundamental human rights that should take priority.”
During the session, the representative of the Union for the Mediterranean called on Egypt to take “rapid corrective measures” to improve its image in the area of human rights.
“In Egypt, and despite the limited progress achieved in the form of adopting a new national human rights strategy, we are still concerned about arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, repression of civil society and violations of prisoners’ rights,” he said.
President Al-Sisi described the criticism as “sharp and unjustified”.
“To me, your speech was very harsh, and what you said by no means reflects the situation in Egypt,” responded Al-Sisi. “I therefore consider what you said a deliberate insult to the Egyptian state.”
The president argued that when some countries were forced to adopt a radical liberal agenda in the area of human rights they fell into chaos and instability.
“We have countries which acted to destroy other countries by fomenting conspiracies, conflicts and problems. During what is called the Arab Spring we saw many countries fall into disintegration and civil wars, with millions of citizens fleeing and now living in refugee camps. We need to ask, who spread chaos in these countries and abused the human rights of their citizens? Who used radical liberal human rights agendas to intervene in Arab countries like Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Somalia and push them into destruction?”
Moushira Khattab, president of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), said Egypt has taken progressive steps on the road of respecting human rights, particularly in the area of promoting religious freedom and equality among citizens regardless of race, colour, and religion. The Egyptian government has also forged a national strategy on human rights.
Khattab also stressed that the government is working to ensure that migrants and refugees who fled to Egypt do not have their rights abused.
President Al-Sisi pointed out that not a single illegal migrant has been deported from Egypt since 2016.
“In Egypt we have six million refugees whom our friends in Europe refuse to receive. Unlike countries which like to give lectures on human rights, we do not have refugee camps because we consider these refugees as guests who have rights equal to those granted to Egyptian citizens. The government of Egypt provides education, housing, healthcare, and jobs to all migrants and refugees despite our limited resources.”
In a press conference held on 13 January, President Al-Sisi answered many questions about the situation of human rights in Egypt. “Freedom of expression in Egypt is guaranteed,” he said, and all forms of criticism are allowed, “but with the stipulation that they are constructive and lead to moving Egypt forward”.
Responding to a question on the integrity of elections in Egypt, the president replied: “I am ready to hold elections in Egypt every year, to be monitored by all international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the Arab League, and civil society organisations, but with the stipulation that these organisations foot the bill of these elections.”
To a question on reports released by Western human rights organisations about Egypt, Al-Sisi replied that accusations by Western media and organisations about “enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and detention of political activists” were inaccurate.
“To those who claim there are forced disappearances in Egypt, please provide us with accurate lists or statements about these cases and I am ready to form a fact-finding committee to investigate them,” he said.
Tarek Radwan, chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that President Al-Sisi was also responding to a report 13 January issued by Human Rights Watch (HRW) under the title “Egypt: No End to Systematic Repression”.
Radwan said Egyptian officials, led by President Al-Sisi, were doing everything necessary to refute the baseless claims contained in such reports.
“As MPs, we investigate allegations about torture and enforced disappearances and have found that most of what HRW publishes about Egypt is false. They receive most of their information from the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood,” said Radwan.
Radwan referred to the case of Hossam, a founder of Hasm terrorist movement, who was arrested in Luxor last week while a Sudanese plane was heading for Turkey.
“The Muslim Brotherhood have claimed Menoufi was abducted by Egyptian security and that his case is one of forced disappearance, yet after he was arrested it soon became clear he had been living in Sudan and was planning to join the Brotherhood’s ranks in Turkey.”
In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli reiterated that reports issued by Western human rights organisations about Egypt present “inaccurate information”.
“These organisations base their reports on individual cases which they represent as a general phenomenon in Egypt,” said Madbouli. “Egypt has addressed these issues in talks with a number of countries to give them a clearer picture of the human rights situation in our country.”
Responding to a question on media freedoms in Egypt, Madbouli said there is a wide variety of opinions expressed in Egypt.
“People get information from different sources, from television channels, newspapers, and social media, and even within individual media outlets a wide range of opinions can be expressed,” said Madbouli.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 January, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.