Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El Sisi has denied his security forces used force against unarmed demonstrators, adding that protesting was a right guaranteed by Egyptian law and the constitution, provided the protests were in accordance with the 2013 protest law.
His denial followed a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Cairo on Monday which included a frank exchange over human rights, Al Ahram reported.
Before his departure for the Egyptian capital, Macron said he wanted to boost ties with the Mideast country in the fight against terrorism but also wanted to use the visit to encourage greater respect for human rights.
On the sidelines of the Cairo meeting, a French journalist asked the French president whether French-made weapons were used by Egyptian authorities against protesters.
The question follows a political backlash Macron has faced back home for not addressing the issue of human rights with Egypt and France’s sale of weapons to the Arab country.
Macron said that once in 2013 France had raised concerns about a French-made armoured vehicle being used to crack down on protesters. He added that no new potential military contracts had been discussed in his talks with Sisi, with the exception of a possible deal for 12 fighter jets, a point the Egyptian president confirmed.
Egypt’s first democratically elected president Muhammad Morsi, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was overthrown in a military coup in 2013, paving the way for Sisi, a former military man, to take power. In the subsequent protests, hundreds of unarmed protesters were killed by Egyptian security forces.
Morsi had been elected to replace deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak who was forced to step down in the 2011 Arab spring.
Tellingly, on Monday Macron told journalists that Sisi was perceived as even more hard-line than Mubarak under whom gross human rights abuses were also committed, according to media reports and international and regional rights groups.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its 2019 world report, says that since Sisi secured a second-term last March in a largely un-free and unfair presidential election, his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists, and many others who have voiced mild criticism of the government.
“The Egyptian government and state media have framed this repression under the guise of combating terrorism, and Sisi has increasingly invoked terrorism and the country’s state of emergency law to silence peaceful activists,” says HRW.
The government continued to silence critics through arrests and unfair prosecutions of journalists and bloggers, and the parliament issued severely restrictive laws that further curtailed freedom of speech and access to information. The intensified crackdown also included lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) activists, artists, and alleged or self-described atheists, said HRW.
“Authorities have placed hundreds of people and entities on the country’s terrorism list and seized their assets for alleged terrorism links without any hearing or proper due process.”
In addition to using the exceptional state security courts, for which court decisions cannot be appealed, authorities continue to prosecute thousands of civilians before military courts. Both court systems are inherently abusive and do not meet minimum due process standards.
However, Sisi maintained it was unfair to compare Egypt to Europe or the US, and that it had its own special circumstance, adding that people should not forget the country was located in a troubled region where Cairo was fighting religious fundamentalists who were attempting to establish a religious state.
Islamic state-affiliated groups based in the restive Sinai Peninsula continue to carry out bloody attacks on security forces, civilians, and Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians.
The attacks both in the Sinai and on the mainland, including attacks on churches in Cairo, have killed hundreds of people and injured many more.
– African News Agency