Egypt held her head high last week following the review of her file in Geneva during the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UN UPR). The Egyptian delegation was confident and well equipped to answer all the comments against the country’s human rights record.
Coincidentally, the UN UPR session came before Egypt managed to accomplish the full obligations required by the Roadmap drawn in July 2013 to chart a democratic future for the country. Back then Egyptians had just overthrown the post-Arab Spring Islamist regime, and representatives of all the various sectors of the community joined in drawing that Roadmap. Accordingly, Egypt established a new Constitution that is widely seen as the best in her recent history, and elected a moderate President, Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. What remains is the election of a House of Representatives, a move already in the works and expected to be completed by March 2015.
Had Egypt been through with electing a parliament and had this parliament taken up its responsibility of enacting the legislative reform stipulated by the Constitution, a substantial number of the Geneva recommendations would have been needless. However, time has not been on Egypt’s side. Come March 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) should convene and listen to Egypt give an official response to the UN UPR recommendations. The new Egyptian parliament would, in all probability, not have assumed its legislative role by that date. Egypt will have resort to offering pledges and commitments rather than presenting on-the-ground achievements. We might, however, gain time if the President exercises his right to issue legislation in the event of there being no parliament. Such legislation, among which may be laws that enhance human rights, must be presented to the parliament once it is elected for approval or rejection.
Predictably, the Egyptian delegation came back from Geneva with many recommendations that pertain to issues of indiscriminate justice, law enforcement, and the optional halt of the death penalty. Egypt was urged to join the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute in order to be subject to the international system of accountability as regards human rights. The recommendations also touched on issues that command a fair share of controversy in Egypt; including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and civil work. These UN UPR recommendations should positively reflect on Egyptian legislation concerning the press, media, freedom of opinion, the protest law and the NGO law.
Egypt should make up her mind before the upcoming UNHRC general assembly next March on which recommendations she will accept, reject or require more time to achieve. It is heartening that Egypt clearly enjoys the respect and appreciation of a majority of world States. This majority expressed its understanding of the challenges which faced Egyptians in the wake of two revolutions in the space of three years—the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and the 30 June Revolution in 2013 which overthrew the Islamists—and the complex situation Egypt is in as she confronts armed Islamist terrorism.
Observers of the UN UPR session could not miss the political pestering of Egypt by some States. In order to fortify their case against the Egyptian human rights situation, they resorted to attacking the 30 June Revolution, absolutely overlooking the will of the Egyptian people, and alleging that the army pounced on power and that the current authority is oppressing Egyptians, throttling freedoms, and restricting civil work. All this, however, comes over as political posturing and pestering, rather than concern for human rights. The Egyptian delegation responded very well, exercising restraint and calm and objective debate rather than drifting into emotional argument and unseemly verbal exchange.
Now Egypt should work to maintain the honourable image it projected in Geneva. The last year witnessed diligent work by official and rights circles to compile the Geneva November 2014 national report. This effort is still needed to prepare the Geneva March 2015 file.
Besides the challenge of parliamentary elections and the accomplishment of the aspired legislative reform, there are prominent economic indices which, if properly exploited, can bring about international confidence in the transformation taking place in Egypt. Last week saw large-scale Egyptian-American trade and investment talks in Cairo in which prominent investors, businessmen and giant American firms took part. This should act as a prelude to the international economic convention currently under preparation for next February in Cairo, aiming to rally efforts for an economic and investment boost in Egypt.
Egypt should head to Geneva next March armed with credintials that enhances her credibility and seriousness on both the rights and economic fronts.
16 November 2014