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In a press interview, CFJ director reveals the positive and negative effects of the January 25 revolution on the human rights community in Egypt

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News briefing

Edited by: Committee for Justice

Geneva: January 25, 2021

The executive director of the Committee for Justice (CFJ) Ahmed Mefreh said that the January 25, 2011 revolution had positive and negative effects on the human rights community in Egypt. In a press interview, he indicated that the Egyptian human rights community expanded with the emergence of a new generation of Egyptian human rights organizations, after the growing role of rights activists in the diaspora.

Positive impact of January 25 on the human rights community:

In a news feature published by the London-based Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed newspaper on the 10th anniversary of the 2011 revolution, Mefreh said: “There are two decisive positives in the continuation of Egyptian human rights organizations in the face of the political fluctuations in that decade. The first is financial and administrative independence, which is a prominent matter that had a major role in preserving the simple gains that the human rights community was able to receive in its confrontation with successive regimes during the decade of the revolution. Without financial and administrative independence, these organizations would suffer like the Egyptian political parties, movements and groups that were confined to their sectarian and partisan affiliations.

Regarding the second positive, Mefreh added: “We can say that the Egyptian human rights community’s affiliation with international human rights standards has made those standards a tool for monitoring and accountability through which we work to evaluate the performance of these organizations in different political situations. We can say that this affiliation is a factor for its performance and its sustainability, when political division messes the society, and at a time when  the Egyptian human rights community was able to shun the local government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs).

The biggest negative for human rights activists in Egypt:

On the other hand, Mefreh pointed out that there is also a negative aspect in the work of the human rights community over the past 10 years. It is related to the question of the Islamists, which has been the main one constantly being asked when Egyptian human rights organizations are working to consider their positions on human rights violations. I can say that the question of ideology is one of the questions that has had a great impact on the history of the Egyptian human rights movement since its inception in the late 1980s.

Mefreh added: “You should know that the Egyptian human rights community is able to answer questions of foreign funding and answer them as the second main issue after the Islamists issue, but it has not yet found a final answer about how it deals with the Islamists, and what happened after the 2013 military coup. The massacre of Rabaa Al-Adawiya and its sequels is evidence of that. He continued: “Despite this, the human rights civil society was able to gather its diaspora and return by the end of 2014 to be in line with human rights principles and standards again.”

Mefreh said, “The role of the Egyptian human rights community increased after the emergence of a new generation of Egyptian human rights organizations, and after the role that Egyptian human rights defenders play in the diaspora grew, and culminated with the emergence of the Egyptian Forum for Human Rights (March 2019), which is an independent gathering of defenders, and Egyptian women human rights defenders (currently residing in Europe and America) who are united by an indivisible belief in the universal values of human rights, and a common general vision of the need to establish a political system in Egypt, based on respect for the principles of human rights, democracy and citizenship.

The human rights community is the only force moving in Egypt now:

The newspaper report argued that civil society in Egypt, despite the state of political death in Egypt and the decline of all traditional political forces, remains the only force that was allowed to operate, taking advantage of its close links with Western governments and organizations that guaranteed it some kind of protection against the brutal strikes of the regime.

The newspaper also saw that some people working in public affairs in Egypt are betting on Egyptian human rights workers who have strong foreign relations, and who sometimes present themselves as politicians, but without a specific ideology, vision, or even clear alliances that would enable them to bring about a radical change in the political system. Over the past ten years, Egyptian rights workers have found themselves facing several tests that have made their activity a subject of division even among them, and regarding the politicians’ view of their role, amid questions about their ability to influence the scene.

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