On 3 November, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) received ambassadors and diplomats representing 15 countries, mostly from the European Union, at its Cairo office for a public meeting. The EIPR published photos on its social media pages, pointing out that the session was intended to assess the human rights situation in Egypt.
It look as if the regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi did not appreciate this human rights endeavour, which came a few days before the announcement of US President-elect Joe Biden's victory. The regime launched an unprecedented campaign against the EIPR leaders and detained Mohamed Bashir, the organisation's Executive Director. Then Karim Ennarah, Director of the Criminal Justice Unit was arrested while he was on holiday. Later, the EIPR's administrative director, Jasser Abdel Razek, was also arrested and imprisoned for 15 days pending investigation.
The charges brought by the Egyptian authorities against the EIPR officials reveal the regime's ignorance of the nature of their work, the organisation's history and even the orientations of its members. Charges such as joining a banned organisation, spreading fake news and others related to terrorism cannot be pressed against human rights activists, who are recognised widely in Egypt and abroad, given the nature of their work over the years since the group's founding in 2002 by Egyptian journalist Hussam Bahjat. However, the way that Al-Sisi's regime handles issues is neither reasonable nor logical.
Two weeks ago I wrote in an article entitled "Sisi, Biden… and 20,000 Lies" that the human rights file will put great pressure on the Egyptian regime if Joe Biden starts to demand that Al-Sisi must respect human rights and take concrete steps to solve the issue of the country's political detainees. I expected the confrontation to begin after Biden's official inauguration at the end of January, but it seems that Al-Sisi could not resist his desire for repression and committing rights violations.
His regime can now choose to continue with the arrest of EIPR officials, take serious and foolish measures against Bahjat and his colleagues, and provoke further anger in the West; or succumb to pressure and release the detained activists immediately. This suggests that its human rights record is the regime's new weakness that might trigger its demise.
Statements from foreign ministries in significant countries and criticism from European ambassadors who attended the EIPR's meeting in Cairo, as well as the denunciation of the regime's actions by the UN, members of the US Congress and spokesmen for Western governments, have joined statements by more than 50 human rights organisations around the world, all of which demonstrate that the international community is aware of what is happening in Egypt. There is no longer any possibility of anyone condoning the crimes committed by Al-Sisi's regime. However, a spokesman for the Egyptian presidency responded to criticism by the French Foreign Ministry by describing it "as foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs [which] we will not accept."
There are many questions about the timing and purpose of the arrest campaign. Media connected to the Egyptian regime, which initially attacked Biden and warned against his "offensive" statements about Al-Sisi and the demand for the Egyptian President to respect human rights, is the same media that blesses this ferocious campaign against Egypt's human rights activists and accuses them of terrorism and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Al-Sisi does not understand politics — he once admitted that he is not a politician — and if the campaign's purpose is to send messages to human rights activists within and outside Egypt that there is no room for criticism and freedom of expression even with Biden's election victory, then the repercussions will be heavy for the regime
Being a human rights activist is now, apparently, a criminal offence in Egypt. Al-Sisi's regime does not really care about your political affiliations or orientations, but only sees you as a potential source of pressure distorting the carefully-cultivated image that the president has created for himself. The human rights issue may well turn out to be the first nail in the coffin of his military regime.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.