Al-Sisi’s Visit to Brussels: No Red Carpet for Human Rights Violations
As EU officials prepare to welcome African heads of state for the EU-AU summit in Brussels on 17-18 February, 2022, 6 NGOs call on EU and Belgian leaders not to roll out the red carpet for Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi.
The human rights crisis in Egypt under Al-Sisi’s repressive rule has been under the spotlight in recent months, and the Egyptian authorities have been seeking to whitewash their international image. High-ranking EU and Member State officials should not receive President Al-Sisi bilaterally during his time in Brussels unless they will decisively address human rights as a key issue in the EU’s relationship with Egypt, and take a clear and public position on the matter.
In January 2021, twelve human rights organizations issued a joint letter to leaders in the European Union and member states, citing a litany of human rights abuses (including repression of civil society, rampant arbitrary detention, and increased applicaiton of the death penalty, among others). The letter called for the EU to undertake a “comprehensive review of its relations with Egypt.” While there have been sporadic prisoner releases since that letter was delivered, the overall situation for human rights has not seen material improvement.
“Egyptian President el-Sisi has systematically attacked the press, imprisoned journalists, and silenced critical voices,” said Tom Gibson, Committee to Protect Journalists’ EU representative. “The European Commission should abide by its values and demand during el-Sisi’s upcoming visit that Egyptian authorities cease their repression of the media. The Commission cannot let business carry on as usual.”
Wadih Al-Asmar, President of EuroMed Rights, said “The EU should stop turning a blind eye to widespread human rights violations and to the relentless persecution of peaceful dissenting voices in Egypt. The recent sentencing of human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer and blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah by an emergency court is a sad illustration of this. We need more clear condemnation of these negative developments, and we need the EU to stand with independent civil society and with all the victims of these violations, so that silence does not come across as an endorsement of the Egyptian authorities’ horrendous practices.”
Ahmed Mefreh, the Executive Director of the Committee for Justice, said: “Egypt aims to be a key partner to the EU, but on its terms. The Egyptian regime continues to target human rights defenders, journalists, and lawyers and counting on diplomacy to find a way out of being held accountable for its crimes. Systematic torture in police custody, enforced disappearances, and the use of emergency courts illustrate the devastating effects of the prevailing impunity in Egypt. The EU must support efforts to establish a monitoring mechanism on Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council and strongly voice the negative impact of Egypt’s human rights policy on their allyship. Partnership with Egypt should be founded on the respect to all human rights.”
The deterioration in the human rights situation has drawn condemnation from world leaders, including most notably in March 2021 UN Human Rights Council session, where 32 states expressed “[deep concern] about the application of terrorism legislation against human rights activists, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers.” Yet earlier this year the EU and Egypt submitted a joint bid to chair the Global Counterterrorism Forum.
Leslie Piquemal, Senior EU Advocacy Representative at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) said: “In March 2021 32 states, including many EU Member States, finally spoke up at the UN Human Rights Council on Egypt’s appalling human rights record. Almost a year on, President Al-Sissi is heading to Brussels for the EU-AU summit. The EU and European states should follow up on last year’s message and refrain from honoring Al-Sissi with high profile accolades that will whitewash Egypt’s image while severe human rights violations continue.”
Alexis Deswaef, FIDH Vice President said: “Al-Sissi’s brutal regime commits daily human rights violations in the name of national security and counter-terrorism, while EU member states shamelessly sell weapons to Egypt. The recent news that the EU and Egypt submitted a joint bid to co-chair the Global Counter Terrorism Forum together is yet another outrageous sign that the EU and member states consider Egypt as a privileged partner, despite its violent repression against dissenting voices. The EU must urgently change course to send a clear signal to Al-Sissi that Egypt’s appalling human rights record will no longer be tolerated.”
Andrea Prasow, Executive Director of the Freedom Initiative said: “President Sisi’s visit is an opportunity for European leaders to show they care more about the tens of thousands wrongfully imprisoned in Egypt than they do about offering Sisi a warm welcome. Any leader meeting with Sisi should make clear that Egypt must fulfill its human rights obligations, particularly by ending arbitrary detention, unlawful travel bans, and targeting human rights defenders outside its borders.”
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Committee for Justice (CFJ)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)