HOUSE FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON AFRICA, GLOBAL HEALTH, GLOBAL HUMAN RIGHTS,
AND INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
JOINT SUBCOMMITTEE HEARING: HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN EGYPT
STATEMENT BY DR. HANY SAQR
EGYPTIAN AMERICANS FOR DEMOCRACY AND HUMAN RIGHTS
DECEMBER 10, 2013
Egyptian-Americans for Democracy and Human Rights (EADHR) is extremely concerned with the excessive human rights violations, both reported and unreported, since the 2013 Egyptian coup d’état. The removal of President Mohamed Morsi has led to statewide protests that have been met with brutal reaction by the military. The democracy that was showing signs of awakening within the country has been extinguished. The crackdown following the overthrow has resulted in widespread and systematic violent human rights violations. The limiting of individual rights in Egypt has been supplemented by strict limitations on media outlets to prevent information from spreading and being readily available to the public. The combination is a clear indication of the systematic approach the government is taking to bolster power and eliminate opposition.
Following the initial overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, steps were taken within Egypt to form the foundations of a strong democratic government under President Morsi. These first steps toward democracy have been derailed however, as the military government rules with the same autocratic tendencies that have been the object of resentment within Egypt for so many decades. The coup has removed all democratic institutions put into place by President Morsi, including the Lower and Upper House of Parliament. The constitution that was to be submitted for approval by the Egyptian public has instead been written and put into law without any democratic process. The decisions being made by the military government demonstrate a disregard for the democratic principles that inspired the Egyptian revolution and threaten to revert the nation to the authoritarian state it once existed as for so long. Lives have been put in danger as the government continues to abuse its power and limit democratic rights along with basic human rights.
The most severe instances of human rights violations have taken the form of outright mass killings of civilians. There have been numerous instances of mass killing of protesters through the use of overwhelming force. The health ministry stopped publishing a total casualty count from the crackdown on the protesters “because of the huge numbers of death,” indicating that they had lost track because of such high losses. Unofficial estimates put the death toll at more than 5,000. Any protest that the security forces deem “unmanageable” results in a number of protester fatalities.
Aside from the number of protesters who have already been killed, there are a huge number of protesters who need medical attention. Approximately 20,000 Egyptians have been injured in the aftermath of the coup. Unfortunately, these protesters are not receiving the medical attention they need because the Egyptian military and police have attacked medical professionals and facilities that provide care for injured anti-government protesters. The health care providers are being forcefully prevented from serving their function. Doctors and nurses have had no choice but to leave the hospitals and leave injuries untreated. The violation against medical neutrality is just one dimension of the brutality used in the crackdown on protesters in Egypt. It serves as evidence that the government will systematically implement inhumane tactics to crush the opposition and whoever supports them.
While it is evident that in-discriminant mass killings have been carried out by the military on the opposition, there is new evidence that points to more methodical targeted elimination of government resistance. On many instances the military has specifically targeted certain people in protests due to their political preferences. When confronted by media and international journalists military officials claim that they were only trying to get the protests under control and that it was not their fault that the ones who died were supportive of a certain political party.
Deaths of protesters have become terrifyingly common in Egypt since the coup and if security measures aren’t taken then the situation will quickly worsen. Earlier this year, Egyptian authorities stated that anyone who protests the army “on Sunday [October 6th] when the country celebrates the anniversary of an attack on Israel forces during the 1973 war will be regarded as agents of foreign powers.” In this case, “foreign agents” are subject to severe crackdowns and restrictions by the ruling military. However, this is not simply a one-day restriction on civilian activities. The paranoia of the hard-line government has resulted in curfews that put a stranglehold on the civilian population and provide more opportunity for the government to capture civilians that might be seen as a threat.
Since the coup the number of protesters who have been detained has significantly increased but the exact number is unknown. The government has stopped keeping track after the number started accumulating to unprecedented levels. The number of political prisoners held illegally, several of which are underage, is surprising. These prisoners are dying of over-crowding and suffocation. Prisoners who try to escape are attacked with tear gas and repeatedly beaten by guards. Many detainees being held illegally in prison are protesters. These protesters have been labeled as enemies of the state and are being held in prisons for exercising their right to free speech by expressing their views on the new government. The detainees are tortured by whipping and electric shocks. Often prisoners are repeatedly moved from one location to another and then told to confess that they were trained and sent by either Israel or Iran. The situation in the prisons has become so bad that when asked, protesters will sometimes say that they would rather get killed in a protest than to be taken into prison as detainees.
The perception of the widespread human rights violations has been manipulated though tight governmental control over media outlets and the strict regulation of information available to the public. At least four television channels have been taken off the air and their employees arrested. The only explanation for the shutdown of the channels was given by an Egyptian court saying that the channels “broadcast lies to the Egyptian people, defamed the armed forces, violated the professional code of conduct, and incited foreign countries against Egypt.” Media restrictions are becoming increasingly stringent and strict measures are being taken against pro-press measures. Because the media of Egypt is highly influential, in both Egypt and the Arab World, a temporary freeze on media access has made it harder to the local people to obtain accurate and unbiased news information.
In addition to the rampant media censorship, there have been various accounts of journalists being mistreated, arrested, and even killed in Egypt. Deportation is one of the main tools the Egyptian government has used against the journalists in country. Journalists who are not of Egyptian nationality are being deported back to their home countries. This has affected the pan Arabic news channel Al- Jazeera the most. Al-Jazeera is a Qatar based broadcaster and many of its journalists are being deported to Qatar because the Egyptian government ruled that the journalists had been obtaining footage from protests illegally. The current regime in Egypt has disregarded the fundamental right of journalists to report freely on the crisis that has overtaken the country. The only option left for Egyptians is state sponsored media. More often than not, the news circulated by the state media is inaccurate or extremely biased. Most outside journalists and broadcasters have been intimidated or threatened by deportation, allowing the government to consolidate control and silence the opposition.
The amount of control that the Egyptian military rule exerts extends even to the non-governmental organizations (NGO) that are present within the nation. In a recent development, the interim Ministry of Justice has drafted a bill that would impose new restrictions on the regulation of NGOs. The law in question would prohibit NGO engagement in “political activities”- which has been used to limit NGO advocacy activity. Even before the new bill was drafted, civil society organizations in Egypt had faced resistance from the government. The government began cutting off foreign funding that NGOs rely on and refusing to approve most of the foreign grants the NGOs receive to run programs in Egypt. In fact, local NGOs have been barred from engaging with international NGOs without explicit permission from “security bodies.” With the refusal of funding, NGOs are left unable to carry out their mission in Egypt.
The main targets of the military government’s new NGO policies are those organizations with a focus on human rights issues. The Egyptian Organization of Human Rights (EOHR) focuses on projects to train the youth on how to protect human rights and encourage political participation and to monitor freedom of expression in Egypt. The Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs has rejected three EOHR grants in the past six months. The denial of funding is a clear indication of the suppression of the activities conducted by the civil society organizations. NGOs doing work on human rights in Egypt are facing significant hurdles that are being orchestrated by the government to limit their success They have difficulty registering their organizations, face delays for foreign-funded grant approval, and are hampered by restrictive policies. The restriction on NGO funds has resulted in fewer opportunities for the growth and prosperity of Egyptian society as a whole.
In addition to the restrictive NGO policies under interim president Adly Mansour, the military government has passed a new law that restricts public assembly and demonstration. The law was issued on November 24th of this year. The law gives military and security officials the power to ban any protest, forcibly remove protesters, and give hefty prison sentences to those who are present during any demonstration. This law eliminates all chances for peaceful demonstrations in Egypt and increases the force in which police and military officials can retaliate on civilians.
As civil society suffers from the stranglehold of the government, so does the labor market in Egypt. The violation of labor rights has become a critical problem in Egypt. The International Labor Organization recently blacklisted Egypt for the unacceptable state of its laborer’s rights. Just as political demonstrations have resulted from infringements on individual freedoms, the restrictions on worker freedoms have resulted in mass demonstrations. A number of these protesters have been arrested for demonstrating and later released, only to find that they have lost their job due to their absence. The ruling military regime has attempted to label striking workers as counter-revolutionaries and has ordered a crackdown on them. However, these workers are protesting against low wages, unsafe working conditions, and the failure of the Egyptian government to protect union democracy and plurality. They are not advocating for political gain but rather for an improvement in labor rights.
While many Egyptians suffer through unemployment, those that have jobs are finding it difficult to support themselves and their families. Living expenses are continuing to rise while at the same time taxes are increasing, cutting into the income of Egyptians. The minimum wage is meant to guarantee a standard of living that sustains basic living conditions, but the number of people living far below these standards is shocking. Many of those living under minimum wage are forced into labor. In addition to the poor wages, labor unions are ill treated and not taken seriously. Labor unions aren’t considered top priority in the country, but few people realize that a labor movement is one of the biggest threats to any government.
Forced labor has become a major issue since the coup. Surprisingly, a large portion of forced workers are under the age of 18. Child labor, especially of underage girls, has gone up tremendously since the coup. Many young girls are being stopped from going to school because of the current dangers present in Egypt. These girls are either being forced to work to help support their families and the children who are working are forced to face extremely hazardous situations. They are exploited in domestic and agricultural services. Not only are these children being forced to work, they face physical, psychological, and sexual exploitation by their employers. The forced labor of youth in Egypt is unacceptable and the situation needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Many international NGOs that work in children’s human rights are not allowed to continue to work in Egypt. As mentioned earlier, many international NGOs and civil organizations are told to leave Egypt because the current military rule fears that they might bring Western influence along with them. The coup has taken the exploitation to unprecedented levels and there are no signs of measures being taken to correct the situation, or improve it.
The government control being exercised in Egypt has pushed the situation in the nation to a critical level. Egyptian people are constantly put in danger while being stripped of their rights at multiple levels, ranging from individual human rights to the accessibility of information. This cannot, under any circumstances, continue. EADHR is extremely concerned with the current situation and hopes that measures will be taken to ensure the safety of the fundamental rights of the Egyptian civilians.