In the run-up to the third anniversary of the military coup that ended the leadership of democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian Revolutionary Council has hosted two events intended to shed some light on the suffering of Egypt’s people since 2013. The linked programmes took the form of a parliamentary seminar on 28 June, followed by a press conference two days later.
The event in parliament provided a comprehensive analysis of the current political and humanitarian situation in Egypt. It was chaired by Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs spokesperson Tom Brake MP; the speakers came from a wide range of backgrounds and offered their unique insights into Egypt’s human rights crisis.
Dr Maha Azzam was the first panellist to speak and she expressed the urgency of the humanitarian need in the country. She gave a detailed description of the way that her country is slowly turning into a dystopia before the eyes of the world, and the international community’s complicity in its attitude towards the coup and the atrocities that have followed. Azzam spoke about the British government in particular and reiterated that it has a responsibility to use its diplomatic and economic power to put pressure on Cairo and restore democratic legitimacy in Egypt.
The legality of the issue was then addressed, with human rights lawyer Tayab Ali explaining the legal technicalities of the coup and how it breeched international humanitarian law by abusing freedom of speech and the fundamental right of people to live in security and be protected by their government. He then elaborated on Dr Azzam’s critique of the British government.
The topic of human rights abuses was expanded by Abdullah El-Haddad, who gave his personal insight into the abuse of prisoners in Egypt. Both his father and his brother have been imprisoned by the Egyptian government headed by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. Haddad described the inhumane conditions under which prisoners in Egypt are forced to live, which include physical and psychological torture, the blocking of family visitation rights and the denial of adequate medical treatment. He also addressed the treatment of prisoners’ families, explaining how the authorities make it exceptionally difficult for families to conduct such visits even when they are permitted. They are usually forced to wait up to 13 hours, camping outside the prison, for visits which rarely last longer than 10 minutes.
Physician Dr Farouk Messahel then described the unhealthy and unsanitary conditions in Egypt’s prisons, noting that prisoners are exposed to dangerous diseases which could eventually kill them. He also compared the torture tactics used by the Egyptian authorities to those used by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Press freedom in Egypt is facing a crackdown by the authorities; journalist and author Peter Oborne condemned the double standards that persist in the way that Westerners who are imprisoned in Egypt benefit from global solidarity, whereas Egyptian journalists are largely forgotten about.
According to the Deputy Director of Reprieve’s death penalty team, Harriet McCullough, capital punishment is used extensively in Egypt. Mass executions take place and even children are sentenced to death.
All of these issues were also covered in the press conference, which included a contribution from an ex-prisoner speaking via Skype.
Overall, the two events were very well organised and highlighted the need for urgent action if law and order is to be restored in Egypt. Three years after the military coup, the justice system is still in disorder; the conundrum facing the people of Egypt is that if they protest against this injustice, the coup authorities suppress them even more. That also presents an enormous challenge to the international community and those governments which offer political, economic and military support to the Sisi regime in Cairo.