Egypt’s civil society: two misperceptions


During a congressional hearing on the Obama administration’s FY17 budget request, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke briefly regarding the state of human rights in Egypt, expressing his concern over the deteriorating conditions, the Project for Middle East Democracy reports:

Referring to the general state of free expression, Kerry stated, “We have seen a deterioration over the course of these last months with the arrests of journalists and some civil society personalities.” Kerry stressed that these clampdowns on civil society and dissent “are of enormous concern to us.” … Kerry also highlighted that the increase in aid from Saudi Arabia and the UAE have overshadowed U.S. aid, reducing the amount of leverage the United States may have over human rights issues.

POMED’s Stephen McInerney called the proposed changes “disappointing,” while Michele Dunne – a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy argued that “there are concerns that those human rights abuses might be leading to radicalization and terrorism.”

There is a popular assumption propagated by the Sisi regime that Egypt’s civil society organizations are detached from the real grievances of Egyptians as these organizations are occupied by Western human rights principles while citizens’ only concerns are stability and economic development, notes Nancy Okail, the executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy:

Contrary to this claim, the most notable recent grassroots demonstrations have been in protest of human rights violations. In fall 2015, two of the biggest demonstrations Egypt had seen since 2013 erupted in Luxor and Ismailia, with hundreds of people protesting against the deaths of two men who had been tortured in police stations. The protesters were demonstrating against the lack of justice and dignity for the men, not demanding economic stability. In February 2016, the Egyptian medical syndicate mobilized to protest against the abuse of doctors by the police. Ten thousand Egyptians demonstrated in support of the medics with chants against police brutality. 

Another misperception is that the only two serious powers in Egypt are the Islamists and the military, while other secular opposition groups have no weight, and therefore that there is no point in backing these groups or addressing their concerns, she writes for Carnegie’s Strategic Europe:

However, the unprecedented support for the doctors’ syndicate and the protests against police torture disprove this notion. The demonstrators not only rejected police brutality but also took a unified stand by making several strong decisions, including announcing a general strike, chiding the Egyptian health minister, and requesting his resignation for not standing up for doctors’ rights. 

These episodes were not exceptional, as syndicates and labor unions are the strongest and most organized forces in the country. The regime and the security sector in Egypt are well aware of the unions’ potential to challenge their power. One need only look at the case of Giulio Regeni [above], an Italian PhD student who was researching Egypt’s labor unions, to understand how seriously the regime takes labor unrest.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email