International

Stop all aid to al-Sisi military regime

The hypocrisy and double-standard practiced by Western leaders when it comes to dealing with tyrannical regimes like Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are unacceptable and must be deplored. They condemn alleged human rights violations in China, Turkey and other Third World countries but provide strong support to the military regime in Egypt because it serves to protect Israel and the commercial interests of its transnational corporations.

Last week an Egyptian court, after a mass show trial of 739 people, handed down death sentences to 69 of them, and prison terms to the rest. The European Union merely condemned the death sentences passed by the court, saying there were "serious doubts" over whether the defendants had been given a fair trial.

Just three days after the verdict, Egypt and the European Investment Bank (EIB) signed a two-grant agreement worth 32 million euro to receive technical help and investments.   EIB investments in Egypt have reached 8.3 billion euro since the first democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown in a military coup. Is this how a brutal dictatorship that kills and imprisons its own people should be treated?

Those sentenced were accused of crimes, including murder, during the peaceful sit-in demonstration at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiyya Square and al-Nahda Square in August 2013. They were protesting the military coup engineered by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. He ordered the security forces to disperse the demonstrators using force and, as a result, around 1000 were killed.

Based on a year–long investigation of the killing, Human Rights Watch concluded that the violent dispersal of the demonstrators followed a plan that envisioned several thousand deaths and that the killing “probably amounts to crimes against humanity”.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: “In Rab'a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history. This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.” 

Neither Egypt nor the United Nations has carried out an independent investigation into the massacre, and not a single person has been held accountable for the mass killings. 

The former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, called al-Sisi’s Egypt a “republic of fear”. Anyone who wants to express his opinion is afraid that he will be harassed, detained, that his house will be stormed, or a case against him will be fabricated, or it will be said that you are insulting the judiciary.  He was detained early this year for calling a boycott of the fake elections in which al-Sis reportedly received more than 97% of the votes cast. 

The security apparatus has been given carte blanch to arrest, detain, torture and disappear critics of the regime. Human rights organisations have reported that hundreds of civilians have been disappeared by Egypt’s security forces.  Amnesty International, in its report, revealed that the al-Sisi regime disappears up to 4 people a day in an attempt to wipe out dissent. Children, as young as 14, have been disappeared without a trace. 

The Italian student Guilio Regeni was kidnapped and murdered by the security forces in 2016 because of his research into Egypt’s independent labour unions. The Italian government has now put into cold-storage Regeni’s case because of its trade relations with Egypt. 

The al-Sisi regime has removed independent judges from the judiciary and turned it into a tool to punish those resisting the military dictatorship. By delivering ludicrous verdicts, it has become the laughing stock in international judicial circles. An Egyptian court had pronounced death sentences on persons who had been dead even before the date of the alleged offence. The most ridiculous verdict .was the life sentence given to a 3 year-old toddler which was cancelled after public outcry. 

The media has been turned into a cheer-leader for al-Sisi and an instrument for vilifying and demonizing his critics. Independent journalists are being persecuted and jailed. At least 32 journalists are currently detained and 22 of those are held without charges.

UNESCO has awarded its World Press Freedom Prize this year to imprisoned Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid.  He was arrested while covering the clashes between security forces and Morsi supporters in 2013 and had been in jail until he was released early this month, subject to him reporting to the police every day for five years. According to the jury that selects the award recipient, he was given the award for his “courage, resistance and commitment to freedom of expression".

The military dictatorship would have collapsed long ago had it not been for the support provided by the Western governments and the Gulf States’ hereditary rulers. They supply arms to kill peaceful demonstrators opposing the abuses of the regime and provide billions of dollars in aid which is swallowed up by the armed forces and corrupt officials.

In its recent report Transparency International Defence and Security said that Western governments and arms companies have contributed to the Egyptian military's consolidation of political power. Deputy Director of the organisation James Lynch said: "Western states, who could do much to influence this situation, are meanwhile failing to demand serious reform and instead carrying on with business as usual, while mistakenly still considering Egypt a trusted partner for security and stability in the region". 

He warned that,  by providing support  to the armed forces with few strings attached, the international community must understand that, not only is it doing a major disservice to the people of Egypt, it is also contributing to the security crisis in the country and region.

Commitment to and upholding human rights, democracy and international law cannot be sacrificed at the altar of commercial profits for, otherwise, it would lead to tyranny, insecurity and instability in the world.

The Western powers should reassess their relations with the murderous al-Sisi regime and take measures to end the military dictatorship. Providing aid should be linked with democratization and the elimination of the Egyptian armed forces’ vast political and economic power. They must demand that the Egyptian government practices transparency and independent public oversight over military budgets and activities.

The United Nations must set up an independent committee to investigate the killings in 2013 of around 1000 protesters by security forces in Cairo’s Rabaa al Adawiya square where demonstrators had rallied against the ouster of democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

The author is chairman of Citizens' International, Malaysia

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