Rejecting Canada’s complicity with Egypt’s authoritarian military government

February 19th, 2015 | Posted in Canada, Tadamon!, Egypt, Solidarity
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    Tadamon! Montreal statement, Feb. 2015.

hossamphoto

A protester carrying a banner addressed to Mubarak: “The people want you to fall”. Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy

Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising, against Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, is now being systematically overturned by the military-backed regime of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, with the open complicity of western powers, including Canada’s Conservative government.

The spirit of Egypt’s globally celebrated revolution, defined by popular demands for “Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice,” chanted out by countless thousands on the streets braving police bullets just over four years ago, is under attack by an empowered army state, shaped by militarized neo-liberalism.

This political reality was made most evident in late January, with the deaths of multiple civilian demonstrators, shot by state police forces in broad daylight, killed during marches commemorating the martyrs of the January 25th “Day of Revolt” protests in 2011 that sparked the broader uprising that winter.

Thousands of political prisoners in Egypt remain behind bars without access to due process, many who are in critical health due to hunger strikes, all while Egyptian authorities continue to pass draconian legislation that violates fundamental human rights. And yet, Canada’s Conservative government provides ongoing political and economic complicity with al-Sisi’s military-backed regime.

This support must be challenged!

In fact, John Baird, the Conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, openly praised Egyptian authorities as “progressing to democracy.” This shocking statement was declared during an official visit to Cairo only months after al-Sisi, a former military general, allegedly won more than 96% of the popular vote, a result that even official international observers from the E.U. and Democracy International an organization funded by the U.S. government, described as “hugely troubling.”

Canada is standing firmly behind al-Sisi in Egypt despite a deepening human rights disaster, well documented by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Just this past month in Cairo, Canada’s Baird held meetings with the Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shukri on deepening economic cooperation and free trade, nominally mentioning human rights issues in an offhand way that was clearly an empty gesture of Conservative political theatre.

Despite diplomatic promises and self-aggrandizing media statements, Canada’s Baird even failed to win the full and immediately release of Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, now out of prison, but stuck in Cairo and facing a ridiculous retrial, all on “charges” of supporting terrorism deemed absurd by a great majority of the international journalist community.

Aside from this high profile case, today, hundreds of people are now facing death sentences simply for being present at demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch.

The UN Human Rights Council describes the current situation in Egypt this way :

“In Egypt the human rights situation is deteriorating gravely. The authorities continue to implement a new law effectively banning protests and to jail and try political opponents in legal proceedings that flagrantly violate due process rights. Since July 2013, at least 22,000 people have faced arrest or criminal charges, according to government figures. Detainees have described widening use of torture and incommunicado detention that harkens back to the darkest days of the Hosni Mubarak era. The military has retained its ability to try civilians under the new constitution. A highly politicized judiciary repeatedly renews pre-trial detention orders with little or no evidence. Speedy mass trials have relied solely on police evidence and resulted in hundreds of death sentences.”

A recent article by the Guardian’s current correspondent in Egypt, Patrick Kingsley, demonstrated the nature of the current legal system in Egypt: “since the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi in July 2013, Morsi’s successors in the presidency, Adly Mansour and Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, have used the absence of an elected parliament to almost unilaterally issue a series of draconian decrees that severely restrict freedom of expression, association and assembly.

Below is the summary of the legislative repression that is currently at play in Egypt as outlined by the Guardian in late 2014. Once again, this is taking place under a military backed government that the Conservatives in Ottawa have only voiced open support toward:

Tender law, September 2013: A Mansour decree let government ministers award contracts to companies without a public tender process. In the months after the decree, the army was awarded building contracts worth about $1bn.

Extension of pre-trial detention, September 2013: The pre-trial detention limit for those accused of crimes punishable by life sentences was removed, technically allowing for certain unconvicted political dissidents to remain on remand in perpetuity.

Protest ban November 2013: The protest ban has become one of the state’s main new tools of oppression, used to arrest thousands of people.

Investment law, April 2014: This bans third parties from appealing against the awarding of government contracts. “It’s very dangerous,” said Ahmed Ezzat. “If you as a citizen see the contract contains corruption, you can’t appeal. And that is itself the definition of corruption.”

Elections law, June 2014: Experts warn a new voting system will privilege the old elites, and inhibit liberal parties that emerged after the revolution. “The electoral law is tailored to ensure the new parliament is exclusively for wealthy, Muslim men,” said Abdulrahman.

University law, June 2014: Sisi gave himself the power to hire and fire university heads, allowing him Mubarak-style control of campuses, the fulcrum of dissent since Morsi’s overthrow.

Clampdown on foreign funding, September 2014: Requesting or receiving foreign funds for the purposes of “harming the national interest” is punishable by life in prison. The government says this is aimed at terrorists. Rights groups, whose funding is mostly sourced overseas, say the vagueness of the wording can be used against them, and have scaled back requests for help from abroad.

Expansion of military jurisdiction, October 2014: The army was given jurisdiction over large parts of public space, including roads, bridges and universities. The move was nominally aimed at terrorists but also makes it easier for the government to try members of the political opposition in the country’s opaque military courts.

Ultimatum to rights groups, November 2014: Rights groups were given a deadline to sign up to restrictive Mubarak-era legislation, or face being shut down. The backlash has yet to begin – but several groups were frightened enough to scale back their activity, or freeze it altogether.

Terrorism law, drafted December 2014: If rubber-stamped by Sisi, this law would expand the definition of terrorism to anything that “harms national unity”– loose phrasing that could be applied to the opposition. “It’s the most horrible new law in my opinion,” said Abdulrahman. “It’s very vague, and relates to almost anything. It’s almost unprecedented.”

In this context, let us move to call into question the legitimacy of the Conservative government’s position on Egypt, a crudely opportunistic position of complicity toward the systemic and violent human rights abuses being carried out by a military government, now clearly moving to consolidated power and undercut the freedoms won during the 2011 popular uprising.

Tadamon! Montreal, Feb. 2015, Montréal, Québec.

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