A European Parliament resolution adopted Thursday 17th January criticising Egypt’s human rights record, especially with regard to the status of religious minorities, has had Cairo in a furore. Talks with senior EU officials, which had been scheduled for last Wednesday and Thursday, were cancelled, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki saying the resolution had created a “tense atmosphere” that made holding the two-day meeting of the EU-Egypt Subcommittee on Political Matters “at this stage inappropriate.” Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People’s Assembly, threatened to sever ties with the European Parliament, and the Foreign Ministry summoned 27 ambassadors from European capitals to register Egypt’s rejection of the resolution. The ministry “will not accept any attempt by any country to comment on the human-rights situation in Egypt,” its spokesman said.
The resolution declared that Copts, Baha’is, Shiites, Qur’anists and members of other religious minorities are severely disadvantaged by sectarian isolation. The EU, it stressed, considers that the recent arrests and actions against NGOs and human rights defenders undermine the commitments entered into by the Egyptian government concerning fundamental rights and freedoms and the democratic process.
The resolution also criticised Egypt over alleged torture practices and the decades-long state of emergency. It called for the immediate release of the imprisoned dissident Ayman Nour, who is serving a five-year prison sentence for fraud in a conviction widely seen as politically motivated. It also called for re-opening the investigation into the killing of 27 Sudanese asylum-seekers in December 2005. The EU Parliament resolution called on the Egyptian government to allow a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Egypt said the EU resolution “would have a negative effect on Egyptian-European relations and will cast a shadow on efforts of cooperation and coordination between both sides.”
For his part Boutros Boutros-Ghali who heads the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) strongly rejected the EU Parliament resolution, saying that it did not take into consideration several aspects particular to Egyptian society, and has disregarded recent positive development in the human rights situation in Egypt. Dr Boutros-Ghali said human rights were closely linked to the political situation in any given country, and that what works for one community may not work for another; “there is no single ideal model for human rights”, he said.
Dr Boutros-Ghali’s deputy Kamal Abul-Magd said that the EU Parliament did not contact the NCHR which could have provided substantiated data. Dr Abul-Magd said he feared the problem would be blown out of proportion and that the EU would be seen—as the US is—as adopting double standards, since Europe itself was not free of human rights violations.
“The resolution did not come up with any new information other than what has already been reported by the NCHR,” NCHR member Hafez Abu-Saeda told Watani. But the government should now fully understand, he warned, that Egypt’s image in the world has been severely compromised, to the point that the EU Parliament should strongly condemn it. The Egyptian EU association agreement, Abu-Saeda said, places Egypt under obligation to respect human rights, so the government must take this matter very seriously.
In reply to a question on whether the expatriate Copts movements could have been crucial in issuing the EU resolution, Mr Abu-Saeda said that, without underestimating the role played by expatriate Copts, he did not believe they were instrumental in this resolution. “It came within the normal activity of the EU Parliament and the interest it takes in human rights all over the world”, he said.
“This resolution is one of the strongest declarations on the rights of minorities, Mohamed al-Sayed Saïd of Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic studies said, and is poised to act as real pressure upon the Egyptian government.” Contrary to the US, Mr Saïd said, the EU carries special credibility with Arab countries, which makes this resolution all the more significant. But it is not expected that the resolution will have a far-reaching negative effect on Egyptian EU relations; after the first confrontation subsides, Mr Saïd said, mutual cooperation and interests will probably rule. The EU is Egypt’s biggest trade partner, accounting for nearly 43 per cent of Egyptian imports and 31 per cent of its exports.
As for the focus of the resolution on religious minorities and especially Copts, Mr Saïd said he believes it was triggered by the repeated attacks against Copts throughout the past year. “Even though these attacks were not perpetrated by the State, the State took no serious action to deal with the attackers, and is thus held responsible for the successive attacks, he said.”