An Egyptian delegation including two members of the newly reconstituted National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) visited Washington last week to discuss Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights.
Responding to a question on the Egyptian delegation’s visit in a press conference on 7 October, spokesperson of the US State Department Ned Price said that Yael Lempert, US acting assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, had met with new chair of Egypt’s NCHR Mushira Khattab and board member and head of the Dialogue International Taskforce Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat.
“We welcomed this visit and the opportunity to discuss how the United States can support Egypt in achieving the objectives set out in its own National Human Rights Strategy which it launched last month,” Price said.
Sources said the delegation included two MPs, Ihab Ramzi, a lawyer and a member of the Republican People’s Party, and Youssef Al-Husseini, deputy chairman of parliament’s Media, Culture, and Antiquities Committee and a member of the Nation’s Future Party, and senator and leading member of the Islamist Nour Party Ashraf Thabet.
The delegation members also held meetings with a number of US think tanks, among them the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, to discuss Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights, launched on 11 September in the New Administrative Capital in the presence of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
The strategy, which runs until 2026, addresses four sectors: political and civil rights; economic, social and cultural rights; the rights of marginalised groups (women, children, disabled people, youth, and the elderly); and education and capacity building in the human rights field.
The delegation’s visit to Washington came just three days after Egypt’s NCHR was reconstituted by the House of Representatives, the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, on 4 October. The NCHR’s new board includes a mix of public figures, prominent rights activists, politicians, journalists, and ambassadors.
The appointment of Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, chair of the liberal Reform and Development Party and nephew of late president Anwar Al-Sadat, to the NCHR’s new board was the biggest surprise in the NCHR’s new make-up.
Al-Sadat, chair of parliament’s Human Rights Committee between 2011 and 2016, was expelled from the chamber in February 2017 on the grounds that he had been involved in leaking a draft law regulating the performance of NGOs in Egypt to a number of foreign embassies in Cairo.
Al-Sadat said he had been expelled because of his sharp criticisms of the new NGOs law.
He has good relations with US diplomats and went on to create the Dialogue International Taskforce, an initiative composed of public figures representing political parties and civil society activists, in addition to members of the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Al-Sadat said the main goal of the taskforce was to build bridges with international partners, conduct dialogue on the domestic political and economic development of Egypt, and highlight the status of freedoms and rights.
He said in a press interview that he had been involved over the last few months in a national campaign seeking the release of activists remanded in custody pending trial. He said that Senate Speaker Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek had promised that hearings would soon be held with civil society organisations to address human rights and media freedoms in Egypt.
The reconstitution of Egypt’s NCHR has received much praise in political circles over recent days. Nehad Abul-Qomsan, president of the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights and a new member of the NCHR board, said the naming of a woman, Khattab, as chair of the NCHR was a very progressive step.
“Khattab has been a tough fighter for human rights since 2008,” Abul-Qomsan said, indicating that “she has good national and international relations that she can use to serve the new agenda of human rights in Egypt.
“The new make-up of the NCHR in general also includes political activists and journalists who have a good record in defending human rights,” Abul-Qomsan said, adding that “what is important is that the state translates the new national strategy into a fact on the ground. This can come about only through forging close links with organisations concerned with human rights in Egypt.”
New NCHR member Nevine Mosaad, a professor of political science at Cairo University, also praised the naming of Khattab as head of the council. “Naming Khattab conveys a great message on the high status currently held by women in Egypt,” said Mosaad, adding that “not only is Khattab the first woman to chair the council, but she also has great experience in the area of defending human rights at both the national and international levels.”
Essam Shiha, a new NCHR member, said in a newspaper article on 30 September that the publication of Egypt’s new National Strategy for Human Rights and the reconstitution of the NCHR were very good steps. “But the state should be serious about implementing the new national strategy as soon as possible because if it fails to do so, it will be sure to face a lot of internal and external pressure,” he said.
Al-Ahram political analyst Amr Hashim Rabie noted that the House of Representatives should play a major role in implementing the new National Strategy for Human Rights. “It is very important that the law on pre-trial detention be amended as this law has led Egypt to face a lot of criticism in foreign circles,” Rabie said, adding that “the laws regulating criminal procedure and the setting up of an anti-discrimination commission have also to be drafted.”
Minister of Justice Omar Marawan said in a TV interview last week that Egypt’s new strategy targeted changing the law on pre-trial detention. “We do not currently have any amendments in this respect, however, because when we decide to change a law, we should first study the recommended changes very carefully,” Marawan said.
He added that “there is nothing called a ‘political trial’ in Egypt, and the Ministry of Justice conducts periodical inspections of Egyptian prisons to make sure that prisoners receive good treatment.
“Let me indicate that some foreign human rights organisations that publish reports on Egypt paint a misleading picture in this respect,” he concluded.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekl