On November 23rd 2020, news broke out of Cairo from reputable news sources NPR and Reuters, that Gasser Abdel Razek, one of the three heads of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, was consistently held in solitary confinement by Egyptian Officials. This news came from Gasser’s legal team after Gasser was arrested for joining a terrorist group and publishing false news. The arrest came after Abdel Razek met with senior foreign diplomats for a briefing on Egyptian human rights. Abdel Razek’s legal team also alleges further inhumane treatment of Gasser from the Egyptian Interior Ministry. These allegations are particularly concerning considering the Egyptian government’s violent and authoritarian response to September protests. It would thus be extremely wise to examine the details of this scenario and decide what is an appropriate immediate response to this recent news.
When approaching this situation, it is vital that we have an in-depth understanding of the allegations that are being levied against the Egyptian government. Gasser’s legal team’s spokesman, Hossam Bhagat states that “Gasser is being deliberately singled out even compared to other prisoners in the Liman Tora prison for inhumane and degrading treatment that is meant to cause him harm and that is putting his health and safety at risk.” Bhagat also alleges that Abdel Razek has been given no warm clothing, his head has been shaven, and he is sleeping on a metal bed frame with no mattress. The shocking nature of these allegations is especially worrisome when taken with the context that Abdel Razek was arrested, just after finishing a meeting discussing the state of human rights in Egypt with European diplomats. Egypt’s interior ministry did not respond to Reuters when asked for a comment.
The Egyptian government, under President Abdel-Fatah El Sissi, has been getting increasingly aggressive with its responses to protest. According to estimates from the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, the Egyptian government recently arrested over 944 individuals including 72 children, as a response to recent September protests. Egyptian authorities had used tear gas, birdshot, batons, and live ammunition to disperse the crowds. Abdel Razek’s own organization, the EIPR, was collecting data and investigating civil liberty abuses, prison conditions amidst the pandemic, and Egypt’s increasing use of the death penalty. With Abdel Razeks’s arrest, all three founders of the EIPR have been jailed, in an attempt as speculated by Abdel Razek’s lawyers to break their will. Abdel Razek’s wife commented to NPR, that this arrest, however, was predicted and she moved their children out of Cairo, so they were not home for the arrest.
It should be made abundantly clear upon reading this report, that Abdel Razek’s arrest is another clear violation of human rights committed by the Egyptian government. While not only having an incredibly alarming and recent history of human rights violations, the Egyptian government failed to provide any meaningful defence against these recent allegations. While both the U.K. and U.S. state department and Joe Biden’s likely secretary of state have condemned these actions, it is fair to say that verbal condemnations are simply too little too late. The United States, in particular, was recently very supportive of Abdel-Fatah El Sissi’s leadership, with even President Donald Trump referring to El Sissi as “my favourite dictator.” I would thus have to say that words from some of the world’s most powerful nations mean little, when activists, freedom fighters, and innocents are being trampled upon by their own oppressive government. While ideally, it would be effective for a joint economic sanction against the Egyptian government to send a clear message of global defence and enforcement of human rights, I would say that such action is merely an idealistic fever dream. To our United States based viewers, however, with the election of Joseph Biden, we are seeing an important shift in the United States leadership and subsequent foreign policy. I would, therefore, encourage our American readers to pressure the new administration for meaningful action against the Egyptian dictatorship. I would also spread this encouragement to all our readers, advocating for you to push your local and regional politicians to action. It is only when the united peoples of the globe speak up in one voice against the evils of tyranny, that we stand a chance to truly value the sanctity of human rights and life as global citizens.