The House of Representatives’ General Committee has ratified the new list of members of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).
The 27-member NCHR will be led by Moushira Khattab as chairman, and Mahmoud Karim Mahmoud as deputy chairman.
Khattab, 77, served as minister for family and population between 2009 and 2011, and secretary-general of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood between 1999 and 2009. She has held many diplomatic posts, including serving as assistant minister of foreign affairs, and ambassador to Czechoslovakia and South Africa.
In a statement on Monday, Khattab said the reconstitution of the NCHR comes at a very critical time, when Egypt is moving towards building a new republic.
“The new republic requires a system for improving human rights that integrates the Egyptian Constitution, the implementation of international conventions on human rights and Egypt’s 2030 vision on sustainable development,” said Khattab.
NCHR Deputy Chairman Mahmoud Karem is a former ambassador to Belgium and Japan (2000-2009). Karem served as NCHR secretary-general between 2010 and 2012, and was the coordinator of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s presidential election campaign in 2014.
The council’s new board includes a mix of public figures, and includes prominent human rights and political activists; George Ishak and Nehad Abul-Qomsan.
Ishak was a founder of the Kefaya “Enough” movement which ptotested against the re-election of Hosni Mubarak in 2005.
In a recent article in El-Shorouk newspaper, Ishak called for a national dialogue on human rights and political freedoms in Egypt and argued there is an urgent need to amend laws on pre-trial detention.
Abul-Qomsan, who founded the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) with her late husband Hafez Abu Seada, is currently president of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights. She joins the NCHR along with Cairo University political science professor Nevine Mosaad; Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly and Ahram Online Ezzat Ibrahim; journalist Mahmoud Bassiouni; lawyer and human rights activist Essam Shiha and Chairman of the Reform and Development Party Mohamed Esmat Al-Sadat.
Al-Sadat, a nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat and a former MP, is the coordinator of a national campaign that seeks the release of activists remanded in custody pending trial. He revealed that the speaker of the Senate had promised him that hearing sessions will soon be held with civil society organisations to address the human rights and media freedom files.
The appointment of the NCHR comes three weeks after Egypt declared a new National Strategy for Human Rights, launched on 11 September in the New Administrative Capital, in the presence of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. The strategy runs until 2026 and addresses political, economic, social and cultural rights; the rights of marginalised groups (women, children, disabled people, youth and the elderly), and education and capacity building in the human rights field. The strategy, prepared by the Foreign Ministry and a number of civil society organisations, also aims to amend laws on human rights.
MP Amr Al-Sonbati said the reconstitution of the NCHR represents the first step towards turning the new Strategy into fact on the ground. “The council is entrusted with supervising the human rights situation in Egypt, releasing periodical reports, and recommending new legislation that can push the human rights agenda forward,” he said.
MP Ayman Abul-Ela, deputy chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, argued that “the declaration of the new National Human Rights Strategy and the reconstitution of NCHR reflects serious political will to draw up a new roadmap for political rights in Egypt.”
“The new make-up of the NCHR includes prominent figures with a proven record in defending human rights and freedom of speech.”
Khaled Qandil, a member of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee, said the reconstitution of NCHR sends a message that Egypt is serious about respecting human rights and is taking concrete steps in this direction. “While Egypt has been under pressure in recent months, and since Joe Biden became US president, to implement the agenda of radical Western human rights organisations like Human Rights Watch, the new Human Rights Strategy implements an exclusively national agenda.”
MP Sanaa Al-Said, a member of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, said the NCHR now includes a mix of professional human rights experts, opposition figures, journalists, lawyers and political science professors. “The most notable thing about the NCHR board, however, is that it will be led by a woman who has extensive experience in the field and who maintains good relations with most international organisations.”
“The fact that new members of the NCHR come from different political backgrounds shows the state is serious about pushing the human rights agenda,” continued Al-Said. She added that she is optimistic that the law on pre-trial detention will soon be amended.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly