print
memri
March 12, 2019 No.
7937

Egyptian Regime Rebuffs Criticism In The West About Executions And Human Rights Violations: These Are Hypocritical Assertions That Show A Lack Of Understanding Of The Situation In Egypt

Ever since Egyptian President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi came to power, the Egyptian regime has maintained a tough policy and an aggressive stance toward its opponents among social activists and journalists,[1] and mainly toward the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) organization. In line with this policy, the MB has been designated a terror organization and outlawed, and many of its members have been arrested on charges of planning and involvement in terror attacks. In September 2018, death sentences were handed down for 75 members of the organization convicted of planning terror attacks and participating in demonstrations adjacent to the Rabi'a Al-Adawiya Mosque.[2] Subsequently, in February 2019, official Egyptian media reported on the execution of 15 MB members for involvement in the 2015 assassination of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat, the 2014 murder of the son of a judge, and the 2013 murder of a high-ranking police official.

The Al-Sisi regime has frequently come under harsh criticism for this policy, particularly from human rights organizations in Egypt and in the West, but also by Western governments. For example, during French President Emmanuel Macron's late January 2019 Egypt visit, a disagreement broke out between Al-Sisi and Macron when, at a press conference, the latter publicly criticized the Egyptian government's treatment of its opponents and the lack of respect for civil rights in the country.[3]

The regime's February 2019 executions sparked similar criticism from human rights organizations in the West, including Amnesty International, the United Nations Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch, and more,[4] and tainted the atmosphere at the first summit of Arab leaders and the European Union (the EU-League of Arab States Summit) in Sharm Al-Sheikh on February 24-25, 2019, which was headed by Al-Sisi and European Council President Donald Tusk. Despite harsh censure by Western human rights organizations, numerous European leaders participated in the summit alongside Tusk, including European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and UK Prime Minister Theresa May; French President Macron did not attend. It seems that both the Arab and European sides were keen to underline the success of this historical first summit, and to emphasize the participants' common ground; thus, the summit's concluding announcement included only a brief mention of the human rights issue disputed among the members. However, disagreements on this matter did emerge when the European leaders were questioned directly about it at a joint press conference at the close of the summit,.

The Al-Sisi regime has rejected outright the accusations that it is abusing human rights and freedom of expression, particularly with regard to the MB. It has stated, inter alia, that the individuals in question are members of an organization designated by Egypt as a terror group who were involved in murders of innocent civilians. President Al-Sisi himself rejected criticism of the death sentences for MB activists, stating that the victims' families had demanded this, reflecting the culture of the region. He urged European leaders to understand that Egyptian values, culture, and security situation differ from those of Europe and as such should be respected.

Most of the articles in the Egyptian press concerning the executions and Western criticism of Egypt were highly critical of European countries and of Western human rights organizations, which, they said, were using a human rights argument to defend the MB. Some, published prior to the EU-League of Arab States Summit that called on the European leaders not to participate in the summit if they did not intend to condemn the MB. Many of the articles justified the execution of the MB members.

It is noteworthy that the only criticism of the executions from within Egypt was voiced by the MB itself, human rights organizations, and a handful of politicians and journalists.[5] This may be because Al-Sisi's opponents were anxious about being perceived as pro-MB – likely exposing them too to regime persecution.


Al-Sisi at a press conference at the conclusion of the EU-League of Arab States Summit (Source: Arabic.rt.com, February 26, 2019)

This report reviews the reactions of the Egyptian regime and its supporters to the allegations that it suppresses opposition, particularly in light of its recent executions of MB members.

Disagreements Between European Leaders And Egyptian Regime On Human Rights

As noted, the issue of human rights arose during the EU-League of Arab States Summit at Sharm Al-Sheikh in late February 2019. Both sides apparently sought to downplay the disagreements between them so as not to mar the importance of this first summit. It seems that it was for this same reason that the concluding statement underlined the challenges shared by all, and the need for collaboration. Regarding human rights, the statement noted that the sides "recognize the importance of civil society" and that the fight against terror, extremism, organized crime, and destabilizing activity should be in accordance with international law, which includes international legislation on human rights.[6]

However, the divergent views on the matter emerged during a joint press conference at the conclusion of the summit, held by President Al-Sisi, Arab League Secretary-General Aboul Gheit, European Council President Donald Tusk, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Aboul Gheit, in response to a question on human rights, downplayed the dispute, saying: "During the meetings, both the Arab and the European sides addressed the human rights issue philosophically and conceptually, but no one referred specifically to the conduct of one country or another. I say this in the presence of the Arab and European delegations, which confirms my words."[7]

Upon hearing this, the European leaders hastened to clarify that the matter had in fact come up in the meetings with the Arab leaders. European Council President Tusk stressed that the Europeans could not possibly overlook the issue of freedom and democracy, and thus had insisted that the concluding statement include both sides' commitment to implement all aspects of international human rights law. He added that disputes are best settled through dialogue, not confrontation.[8] European Commission President Juncker also contradicted Aboul Gheit, underlining that the matter had been discussed in the bilateral meetings during the summit.[9]

President Al-Sisi, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Tell The West: Respect Our Values, Don't Force Yours On Us

Following these events, President Al-Sisi addressed the issue, while firmly rejecting the accusations of human rights abuses in his country. He asserted that Egypt's and the region's culture and values were completely different from those in Europe, and that therefore the Europeans should not impose their culture on the Egyptians. He went on to warn that without an appropriate response to terrorism, his country, like neighboring countries, would collapse. He said: "We are two different cultures. Each region has its particular circumstances... European countries prioritize their citizens' wellbeing; we prioritize protecting our country, preventing its collapse and destruction like that we see in many of the countries surrounding us. The situation [in Egypt] is different [from yours]. Therefore, we must understand... that even with different objectives and priorities, we can find common ground... When you discuss our situation, don't disconnect it from the situation in the region... It must be understood that Sharm Al-Sheikh, where you are [now] sitting, can, with one terror attack, become a ghost town... for three or four years…

"In Europe, in France, in Belgium there have been isolated terror attacks, but over the past five years in Egypt there have been hundreds, even thousands... Our priorities must be viewed through the lens of the circumstances of our lives."

About the February executions in Egypt, Al-Sisi said: "We esteem your words about the death penalty and we agree with them when they concern you, but do not impose this on us... In our region, in our country, when someone is killed in a terror attack, his family comes to me and demands [justice]. This is our culture. We tell [them] that this will be done in accordance with the law. If I called on the countries of Europe to bring back the death penalty, that would reflect [my] lack of understanding of the situation there... But you will not teach us what humanity is. We are humanitarian, and we have our values and our morals, and you have your morals, and we respect that. So respect our values."[10]

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry also rejected the allegations of Egyptian human rights violations. At the 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which began February 25, 2019, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry attacked the elements in the council who, he said, had transformed the council into an arena for settling political accounts. Human rights, he stressed, are an entirety of rights headed by the right to life – which is threatened by the spread of terrorism in the guise of religion.[11]

In response to the UN Commission for Human Rights criticism of the executions of nine men convicted in the assassination of Egyptian public prosecutor Barakat, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry announced that Egypt's legal system is independent and adjudicates in accordance with Egyptian law. The announcement added that the accused individuals' trial was fair, and that the sentence had been handed down after lengthy deliberation, during which all necessary guarantees for a fair trial had been provided.[12]

Egyptian Press vs The West That It Claims Defends The MB: Freedom Of Expression Does Not Mean "Freedom To Use Explosive Belts"

As stated, articles published in the Egyptian press harshly criticized human rights organizations and European leaders that they claim support the MB. These articles expressed full support for the Egyptian regime in all things concerning its handling of the MB and the executions. One even urged the government to execute all the MB activists sentenced to death, as a means of deterrence.

Amnesty International Supports Murderers; European Leaders Shouldn't Attend Summit If They Don't Intend To Criticize MB

Mohamed Amin, chairman of the board of the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Youm, censured Amnesty International for, he said, supporting murderers. In an article published prior to the EU-League of Arab States Summit, he wrote that if the European leaders did not intend to criticize the MB at the summit, it would be better if they did not come and the summit did not take place. He wrote: "I find no word in the dictionary to politely describe the Amnesty organization. Does this organization defend [people] who were involved in murder?... Has the use of arms and explosive belts become a [legitimate] means of expressing an opinion? Does the assassination of innocent people [count as] freedom of expression? Do people in the West use these new means [of expression]? What did Amnesty expect would happen following the legal proceedings?... Is the blood of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat [considered] cheap?!...

"Sadly, Amnesty [International] proves every day that it stands not with the homeland but with those who harm the homeland, and that it defends not freedoms but chaos. Isn't Amnesty supposed to defend [the victims of] bloodshed?... Why doesn't it accuse the destructive organizations of spilling blood? What is its position on ISIS and the MB?!...

"Freedom of expression is one thing, and freedom to destroy and kill is another. It surprises me that the Western and Arab governments [whose leaders] will come to Sharm Al-Sheikh to discuss issues of terror do not come out against Amnesty and those it supports. There is a difference between freedom of expression and the freedom to use explosive belts...

"The Sharm Al-Sheikh summit will not succeed if Arab and European leaders do not issue firm declarations against [terrorism's] planners, organizers, and financers. It would be better for the summit not to convene at all and for the leaders to come [solely] for tourism purposes than to talk about terrorism without condemning or prosecuting its perpetrators.

"The following questions must be answered: Who created ISIS? Who financed it? Who planned its attacks on vital targets? If you do not answer [these questions], don't bother to meet!

"Finally, is there a chance that the summit will recognize the MB as a terror organization? Can it unmask [it]? Why does Europe embrace this global organization? Why does it defend the conduct of its members and view its crimes as human rights? Who says using explosive belts is a human right?!"[13]

Salah Muntasir, a columnist for the Al-Ahram Egyptian establishment daily, also attacked the human rights organizations, saying they adhere to a double standard when it comes to the MB. He wrote: "The excuse used to [raise the issue of] human rights when a murderous terrorist of the evil MB is sentenced to death is feeble. When someone commits murder in retaliation for another murder, or commits an ordinary [act of killing], and is sentenced to death, nobody speaks about his rights and no organization starts a discourse about his case – even though murder is murder...

"Three years ago, in July 2016, Turkey experienced a coup against President Erdogan, following which thousands of military personnel and civilians were arrested, fired, and murdered, and this is continuing to this day. But this did not bother the human rights organizations – maybe because they have not heard about it."[14]

The West Relies On The MB's False Reports

Karim 'Abd Al-Salam, a journalist with the Egyptian Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' daily, stated that the world is being fed false information by the MB and by Qatar and Turkey, which support it, and called for restricting the organizations operating inside and outside Egypt that disseminate these false reports: "The international human rights reports clearly do an injustice to our country, which is facing an organized hostile attack by the MB's terrorist organizations as well as the Qatari and Turkish ones – [an attack] aimed at maligning it and at establishing a false, stereotyped perception of the [Egyptian] reforms...

"The world accepts [these] fabricated stereotypes and exploits them in various ways. The Western media, which does not look too carefully at the reports published by the human rights organizations, exploit them and [discuss them in] interviews, panel [discussion shows] and analyses... Thus [the issue] suddenly starts to grow and snowball, and then a president of a major European country [such as French President Macron] comes [to Egypt] and talks about human rights based on the reports and recommendations of his aides, and our officials go abroad and encounter profound ignorance and fierce hostility among influential Western officials, and [must] invest a lot of effort in correcting the mistaken perceptions about what is happening in Egypt and about the human rights situation here...

"Our first obligation is to stop the group of organizations operating inside Egypt, which are [in essence] a collection of MB organizations based in Turkey, Qatar, and London. [These organizations] have reporters in Egypt and among the dormant MB cells, and also among those calling themselves political activists. In addition to these organizations, there are non-Egyptian ones that are funded by Qatar and Turkey, whose main mission is to publish reports based on distorted information and personal opinions and [in response to] pleas for help by the families of MB defendants – [reports which discuss these defendants] without mentioning their [organizational] affiliation and the crimes in which they were involved, and describe them as mistreated political dissidents..."[15]        

All MB Activists Convicted of Crimes Should Be Executed

While one article urged Egypt not to be deterred by the campaign being waged by the MB and its supporters, and to execute all the MB activists sentenced to death, as a means of deterrence,[16] Dr. 'Amru 'Abd Al-Sami', a columnist for the Al-Ahram government daily, went even farther, calling for executing all MB activists convicted in other prosecutions: "Several days ago the [Egyptian] authorities reported that the nine assassins of public prosecutor Hisham Barakat had been executed. [The assassination] was a despicable crime, that the judicial system considered worthy of this deterring punishment. Yet many in Egypt wonder why only the murderers of Hisham Barakat were sentenced to death, and not other terrorist MB criminals convicted of espionage, the killing of demonstrators, and attempts to bring down the state. Their sentence is always lightened on appeal, and then we continue to keep them in prison, paying for guarding them and providing them with healthcare so that the human rights organizations won't accuse us of mistreating prisoners and harming their health...

"The death penalty should be meted out to all of them, without concern for the noise made by the so-called human rights organizations. The punishments handed down by Egypt's independent judiciary system are based on the legal documents available to the judges, and we will not change our view of the law to suit the human rights organizations. They will in any case continue to accuse us and make claims against us, even if we do not execute a single defendant, as part of their systematic method of pressuring [us]."[17]      

The MB Espouses The Death Penalty; Opponents Of The Death Penalty Are A Fifth Column

Hamdi Rizq, columnist for the Egyptian Al-Masri Al-Yawm daily, wondered why the MB is currently objecting to the death penalty when it itself demands it as part of the laws of Allah. He attacked the jurists who reject the death penalty, calling them a fifth column: "The strange thing is that the MB members who [now] whine about the executions are the same ones who usually advocate following the principle of 'an eye for an eye' and wage fierce religious battles to maintain the death penalty, on the grounds that it is one of Allah's punishments that cannot be abolished. But now that the noose is tightening around their own thick necks, they have started shrieking in alarm.

"What is [even less] clear is the stance of some jurists who oppose the executions, bizarrely mixing law and politics. Some of them have exposed their ugly faces, joined the ranks of the MB, and increased the volume of their cries against the execution of terrorists. None of them has ever shed a tear over any martyr [from the Egyptian security forces] or spoken a single word at a martyr's funeral...

"The MB lies, but these [jurists] are evil deceivers who abet terror, murder, and the spilling of innocent blood. They are a fifth column living among us that seizes every opportunity to attack the Egyptian judiciary..."[18]

 

[2] In August 2013, Egyptian security squads used force to disperse protest demonstrations organized by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, which continued for a month and a half adjacent to the Rabi'a Al-Adawiya Mosque. The death toll from the dispersal of the protests was in the hundreds.

[3] President Macron warned that long-term stability in Egypt could not be guaranteed if the country deviated "from everything that is acceptable and justified" for security reasons. He said that there are those who believe that the current policy of the Egyptian regime is harsher than that which was prevalent when ousted president Hosni Mubarak was in power, ara.reuters.com, January 28, 2019.

[4] Ohchr.org, February 25, 2019; amnesty.org, February 20, 2019.

[5] Gamal Sultan, editor of the Al-Misriyyoun daily, tweeted that the Al-Sisi regime is a "government that is not satisfied with blood," and warned that ultimately it would drown in blood and the homeland would be the main loser. Twitter.com/GamalSultan1, February 20, 2019. Former Egyptian prime minister Mohamed El Baradei, who is known for his opposition to Al-Sisi, tweeted criticism of the principle of the death penalty, without specifically referring to the executions of the MB activists. Twitter.com/ElBaradei, February 21, 2019.

[6] Consilium.europa.eu, February 25, 2019.

[7] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 25, 2019.

[8] Consilium.europa.eu, February 25, 2019.

[9] Europa.eu, February 25, 2019.

[10] Arabic.rt.com, February 26, 2019.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 27, 2019.

[12] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 24, 2019.

[13] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 23, 2019.

[14] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 27, 2019.

[15] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 25, 2019.

[16] Al-Wafd (Egypt), February 23, 2019.

[17] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 25, 2019.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 23, 2019.