By Semanur Karaman
On 9 February, in response to the deadly police violence that left 40 football fans killed and dozens murdered in Cairo, Shadi Zalat compared the price of a ticket to the price of life. Unfortunately, in present-day Egypt, the rhetoric behind the comparison is a saddening one as lives of ordinary civilians and socially conscious citizens are deemed dispensable almost on a daily basis. Since the coup d’etat of July 2013, according to Human Rights Watch, Cairo orchestrated the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history, and according to the Associated Press carried out the most widespread wave of arrests in decades.
Those of us who still firmly believe that the international community has a moral and legal obligation to speak up and stand against abhorrent violations of the most fundamental freedoms in Egypt, including freedom of assembly, expression and association, are losing patience. Be it the peaceful woman protestor fatally shot in the back while holding flowers in her hand during the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, peaceful protestors put behind bars based on the infamous and illegitimate anti-protest law, or women human rights defenders sexually harassed in Egypt’s notorious prison system, the scope of attacks against dissent has reached a limit that is no longer tolerable.
What is even less tolerable, is the international community’s blatant disregard of the thousands of lives lost since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime, and many more that are put behind bars for merely exercising their fundamental right to peacefully associate, assemble and express. The extent of moral corruption in diplomatic relations with Egypt is becoming more repulsive each day; with so called consolidated democracies’ unprecedented efforts to make the notorious autocrat that is called Al-Sisi feel “welcome” in world’s capitals.
The US Secretary of State John Kerry’s praise of Egypt’s transition to democracy is either delusional or deliberately ill-intended when we know that prominent activists Mahienour El-Massry, Yara Sallam, Alaa Abdel Fattah and many others are behind bars for merely expressing peaceful dissent. The UK’s decision to bolster bilateral trade relations is also a backstab to thousands of political activists fighting for political reform. As if the level of moral corruption on an international scale has not made us all sick to our stomachs, at a time when Cairo should actually have no face to show in the international community, Al-Sisi is enjoying some online friendliness on Twitter from Tobias Ellwood, Minister for the Middle East and North Africa at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Ellwood wrote in a tweet: “Pleased to meet with President Sisi of #Egypt today. Agreed importance of security through prosperity. Reform key to success.”
As a non-Egyptian activist who strongly believes solidarity for human rights transcends national borders, my personal morale hit rock bottom when Al-Sisi was given the floor at the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly for about 16 minutes to again – as any other legitimate leader would do – address the international community on behalf of Egyptian citizens. The UN, which is supposed to be a platform where safeguards to fundamental rights should be protected and cherished, rather than those who systematically violate them, is losing credibility by conferring legitimacy to autocrats as the likes of Al-Sisi.
In interviews with Egyptian activists released by Frontline Defenders in October 2014, Gasser Abdel Razeq from Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the human rights organisation where imprisoned activist Yara Sallam used to work, said: “Right after the revolution there was a certain opening that allowed human rights organisations to have dreams and grow.”
We as the international community have failed to support our Egyptian friends’ legitimate cause for a free and democratic country. So I dare ask: When will the horse trading that strengthens a tarnished autocrat end? When will lives of Egyptian nationals start to matter?
Semanur Karaman majored in International Relations & History at Koc University in Istanbul and holds a MA in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity at the University of Essex. Semanur was the recipient of the Hansard Fellowship, which, allowed her to study public policy and democracy at the London School of Economics and work simultaneously as a Parliamentary Assistant in the UK. Semanur currently works as a Policy and Research Officer for a global civil society organisation which monitors the state of civic freedoms and encourages citizen participation in all levels of decision making.