Egypt: EU turns a blind eye to mass arrest of peaceful protesters

Egypt, Justice and the Rule of Law, Shrinking Space for Civil Society, Statement

Read in:  Arabic 

Since 20 September 2019, peaceful protests against rampant corruption have been repressed with an iron fist in Egypt. According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, at the time of writing, over 3,300 peaceful protesters have been arrested and 117 others have been forcibly disappeared. 200 have been reported to be released on 8 October. Given the well-documented systematic use of torture against detainees and extra-judicial killings in Egypt, the detainees are at great risk.

The silence of the European Union and its Member States about these arrests marks a new low in the Union’s support of international human rights and democracy. EuroMed Rights calls on the EU to strongly back the Egyptians’ right to peacefully protest, to publicly affirm its support for democratic transition in Egypt, and to urge the Egyptian government to respect its citizens’ right to freedom of assembly and expression, stop its arbitrary detentions and arrests of human rights defenders, and unconditionally release all detained peaceful protesters.

Several human rights defenders are among the detained, including human rights lawyers Mahinour al-Masry and Mohamed al-Baqer, and political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was a leading figure of the 2011 uprising. Al-Baqer and Abdel Fattah are reportedly detained in a high security prison in solitary confinement. Moreover, smear campaigns against human rights organisations in national security-associated media outlets suggests that further arrests of human rights defenders and NGOs leaders are in the pipeline. Dr Hassan Nafea and Dr Hazem Hosny, two prominent academics and pro-democracy activists were also detained for expressing their views on Twitter. The prosecution has requested a freeze of Dr Nafea’s assets.

Calls for the resignation of President Abdelfattah al-Sisi are also connected to the deep socio-economic hardship of Egyptians from most walks of life and allegations of corruption and economic underperformance. The protests could mark the beginning of a new political process in Egypt.

However, to date, only a handful of Members of the European Parliament have spoken out in support[i] of the protesters and spokespersons of France and Germany have responded to journalists to say that they are following the situation and are expecting that freedom of assembly will be respected. An EU spokesperson sent an email to express the same sentiment to journalists. This is falling short of what can be expected from self-proclaimed defenders of human rights.

The European Union and its Member States must grasp this opportunity to fully and openly express their support for Egyptian civil society and its struggle for democracy and human rights.

[i] Statement by the Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament, Marie Arena on Egypt: https://twitter.com/EP_HumanRights/status/1182222863258017797.
Statement by  the Vice Chair of the Human Rights Subcommittee of the European Parliament, Irina von Wiese: https://twitter.com/EP_HumanRights/status/1176759375379259392
Statement by Pierfranc. Majorino, MEP: https://twitter.com/pfmajorino/status/1176820305634955266