12 regional, international and Egyptian CSOs welcome the European Parliament’s plenary debate on Egypt’s human rights situation and EU policy toward the country, with Commissioner Lenarcic. After the exchange yesterday, 23 November, the EP has now adopted a plenary resolution on the human rights situation in Egypt with a majority of 326 in favor.
The European Parliament has repeatedly shed light on urgent rights issues and cases in Egypt, and addressed recommendations to other EU institutions, EU Member States and the Egyptian authorities. This time, the plenary debate and resolution come on the heels of the United Nations climate change conference (COP27), hosted by Egypt in Sharm el-Sheikh, which was mired in public criticism of Egypt’s rights record alongside the authorities’ closure of civic space, in response to campaigning by Egyptian activists, rights defenders and international civil society.
The resolution adopted by plenary vote highlights the lack of improvement in Egypt’s human rights situation and stresses that “Egypt did not modify any relevant piece of legislation ahead of its hosting of COP 27, including the right to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association and media freedom although providing space to civil society is a joint commitment enshrined in the EU-Egypt Partnership Priorities, as stipulated in the Egyptian Constitution.” The text calls for the immediate and unconditional release of British-Egyptian human rights defender and peaceful activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah and dozens of other rights defenders, lawyers, journalists, peaceful activists, politicians, and social media influencers, and for Egypt to “abandon the massive use of abusive pre-trial detention”.
In the resolution, the EP also “urges EU Member States to support a monitoring and reporting mechanism on grave human rights violations in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council”; “reiterates its call for a profound and comprehensive review of the EU’s relations with Egypt in light of the very limited progress on Egypt’s human rights record and of its crackdown on dissent despite continuing support from European partners”; and “urges all EU Member States to fully abide by the EU Council Conclusions of 21 August 2013 announcing the suspension of export licenses for any equipment used for internal repression, including surveillance technology used to track down dissenting voices.”
During Wednesday evening’s debate, after rather an optimistic-toned statement from Commissioner Lenarcic, MEPs including several from the EP’s official delegation to COP27, stressed their acute concern about the fate of Egyptian civil society and of political prisoners, including Alaa Abdel-Fattah, after the conference’s end, calling for these prisoners’ release. MEPs Bas Eickhout and Mick Wallace recalled the hundreds newly arrested in recent weeks, as well as the intimidation and harassment of civil society. Mr Eickhout recounted the EP’s official delegation being harassed themselves at COP27 for wearing solidarity badges with prisoners of conscience. MEP Jan-Christoph Oetjen observed that those prisoners who have been released should never have been arbitrarily detained in the first place. Several MEPs criticized the EU’s double standards in denouncing rights violations in Russia or China, but being more lenient on Egypt. European Commissioner Lenarcic responded with assurances that human rights are “part and parcel of EU-Egypt relations” and the EU will “further advance and strengthen our engagement” with Egypt in this field; he added the EU believes Egypt’s long-term stability and security “can only be achieved if all aspects of human rights are fully implemented and upheld”.
Despite claims and gestures suggesting that the Egyptian authorities are implementing human rights reforms, the harsh reality remains that the Egyptian government rules through repression and suppression of peaceful dissent. Earlier in 2022, human rights organizations had proposed serious measures to improve the rights situation, including a concrete mechanism for the release of all political prisoners, but the Egyptian government has not responded to these recommendations. Peaceful government critics, including human rights defenders, political opposition figures, journalists and activists remain wrongfully detained. The sustained crackdown on independent civil society continues, and there is an immediate need for vigilance from the EU to deter the authorities from taking reprisals against Egyptian activists who were visibly critical of state policies at or during the COP. Amidst Egypt’s persistent human rights crisis, collective action is urgently needed from the international community, in particular leaders of the EU and its Member States, to heed the European Parliament’s warning and press the Egyptian authorities to cease their crackdown on the human rights movement and civil society, and to uphold the human rights of all citizens and foreign nationals in the country.