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Egypt: The Middle East’s forgotten revolution

November 15, 2019 at 4:36 pm

Smoke rises at Rabaa al-Adawya square following clashes between supporters of the ousted president Morsi and riot police in Cairo, Egypt on 14 August 2013 [Ahmed Asad/Apaimages]

The Arab Spring did not start in Egypt, but it was there where it ended.

In 2011, Egyptian citizens took to the streets to protest the rule of Hosni Mubarak, no longer willing to accept living under an autocratic ruler, they demanded change, they yearned for democracy and the fundamental rights and freedoms that this would bring.

The protests developed and grew, the spirit and desire for change being infectious, spreading throughout the state, the demands being made in Tahrir Square becoming crystallised throughout the general populace; before long, it became a revolution with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets; Mubarak resigned.

Egypt entered a new dawn of democracy. The era of kleptocracy, brutal military rule and oppression was to give way to democratic freedoms, economic stability and the rule of law. The protesters had brought about change and this was going to be delivered by the ballot box rather than the barrel of a gun.

In May 2012, Egypt held its first ever truly free, inclusive and democratic election with President Mohamed Morsi being declared its winner. The hopes and dreams of millions of citizens were for the first time, within reality’s grasp, with Egypt set to enter a new age.

The reality that developed from the dream however was only to last 12-months and be followed by a brutal crackdown greater than anything experienced during the reign of Mubarak.

In July 2013, President Morsi was forcibly removed from office by way of military coup led by Egyptian Army Chief, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. There have been a number that have been loath to characterise President Morsi’s removal as a coup, however, this is exactly what it was, the army took to the streets and demanded he stand down and he was subsequently arrested and thrown in jail.

UN: Egypt prison conditions may have led to Morsi’s death

The steps taken by the army both to remove President Morsi and that which has occurred since under the leadership of President Al-Sisi, has been the very anthesis of a democracy.

We have witnessed new legislation being passed that specifically targets the ability of civil society to protest, to oppose and to seek change.

More legislation, supported by the oppressive tactics of the Security Services, has resulted in every citizen living in abject fear that should they disagree with that which has been decreed by Al-Sisi and his regime, that they will become victims of arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, torture and worse.

Late former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi sits behind bars during his trail on 21 March 2016 [Stranger/Apaimages]

Late former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi sits behind bars during his trail on 21 March 2016 [Stranger/Apaimages]

Egypt has seen tens of thousands imprisoned, disappeared, tortured or killed by a brutal dictatorial regime.

On 14 August 2013, Security Forces and the Army, under the command of General Al-Sisi, broke up peaceful demonstrations at Nahda Square and Raba’a Al-Adawiya Square. Human Rights Watch described the military action, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 protesters and 4,000 injuries, as “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”.

Morsi, for the six-years of his detention suffered the most flagrant of human rights abuses. As a man who had pre-existing and serious health conditions, it was essential that he was given access to appropriate medical care. Instead, his diabetes remained untreated, resulting in numerous instances of him lapsing into a diabetic coma and resulting in him losing his sight in his left eye just by way of two examples.

READ: Egypt to release 500 protesters detained last month

Such was the treatment, that not only were those existing conditions exacerbated, but new ones developed; his liver and kidney function declined rapidly, as a direct result of him not receiving sufficient food, and the food that was supplied, being “spoiled”.

In short, the treatment of President Morsi was so far below any domestic or international minimum standard for the treatment of prisoners, that it amounted to torture.

It is therefore arguable, as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur on Summary, Arbitrary or Extra-Judicial Executions, that the Egyptian State is directly responsible for his death, noting:

The authorities were warned repeatedly that Dr. Morsi’s prison conditions would gradually undermine his health to the point of killing him. There is no evidence that they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable.

President Morsi is however just one man, although he is symbolic of that which is occurring in Egypt, not just the treatment of individuals held in prison, but also being forced to go through a court process that was replete with almost every fair trial standard violation. The trials, that have resulted in multiple death sentences being handed down following procedures that can only be described as a flagrant denial of justice, demonstrate that the independence of the judiciary has completely collapsed. The military regime has circumvented the rule of law and hijacked the courts and it now operates as an extension of the executive used to persecute any and all political opponents.

Tens of thousands of civilians are currently held in Egypt’s prisons, and we can only surmise as to what proportion is detained arbitrarily, how many are being tortured and how many will ever be allowed a fair trial.

As much as it is the policies of the current Egyptian regime that has brought about this situation, the international community must shoulder an element of blame, in that it is the inaction of a number of states that has allowed this oppression to proliferate.

READ: Hundreds of thousands of tweets call for Sisi to quit

The United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, all are aware of that which is occurring, and that which has occurred to Morsi, to Shawkan, to Giulio Regeni and to countless others.

The stance of the European Parliament does appear to be hardening, given its resolution of 24 October, in which it “condemned” the latest government crackdown, went on to “call for an end” to all acts of intimidation and further opined that “A profound review of the EU’s relations with Egypt is necessary”, and that “the human rights situation in the country requires a serious revision of the Commission’s budget support operations, which should be restricted to primarily support civil society”.

It would appear therefore, that the inferred policy of “turning a blind eye” may be about to end.

This, and the calls for a formal and international investigation into the death of President Morsi, has clearly caused significant concern within the Egyptian government. On 30 October, Middle East Monitor reported that a minister in the Egyptian parliament had called on the government to intervene to stop any international probes in to the death of President Morsi, “Tamer El-Shahawy attacked the European parliament after it released a report on human rights in Egypt, saying the body has ‘suspicious objectives’. He added that the report contained false information and baseless lies.”

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stage a rally to mark the second anniversary of the violent breakup of major protest camps in Cairo (Cem Özdel - Anadolu Agency)

Supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi stage a rally to mark the second anniversary of the violent breakup of major protest camps in Cairo, Egypt (Cem Özdel – Anadolu Agency)

The Egyptian government is therefore concerned. It cannot ignore and obfuscate any longer, nor can it simply dismiss credible and evidenced allegations as “lies”; it cannot go on to justify the mass arbitrary arrest, or execution of civilians with due process, as being “part of the fight against terrorism”.

The reality is this; Egypt, eight years ago, was full of hope and excitement as to what might come, but Egypt now is full of fear and despair. This sea of change is a direct result of the current regime, and the crimes being committed by that regime, crimes that do in a number of circumstances satisfy the legal definition of a Crime Against Humanity.

If the allegations made are “lies”, and if the reams of evidence available is all fabricated, then I would suggest that the Government of Egypt ratifies the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court; if it has nothing to fear then perhaps it should invite an independent and international body to review that which has been collected. If all of the allegations are lies, then surely there is nothing to fear, and the ICC Prosecutor would simply confirm the fact that none of that which is being alleged actually happened.

Of course, this won’t happen, as the government has something to fear, it fears the spotlight and it fears accountability.

Our legal team at Guernica has this week submitted a detailed report into the circumstances surrounding the arrest, detention, trial and ultimately death of President Morsi with a demand that an independent and impartial international body conducts an inquiry and makes recommendations for those persons responsible to be held accountable in a Court of Law. Whether that court is ultimately sitting in London, The Hague, Washington DC or indeed Cairo is immaterial. What is important is that it independently and impartially determines the guilt of those persons responsible according to the evidence and not conjecture.

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.