By Nadeem AbdelGawad*
I used to enjoy those dot-to-dot games in Disney’s Arabic comic magazine “Mickey”.
It’s time to play the game again with a few dots from recent political events in Egypt, and consider what those dots might tell us about the broader, current situation in Egypt. How might seemingly disparate questions of civil liberties and economic policy in Egypt actually be connected?
According to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) statement, the number of currently imprisoned journalists under Egypt’s regime reached a record of 64 journalists in February 2015.
Moreover, according to the Statistical Database of the Egyptian Revolution “WikiThawra,” run by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the total number of deaths related to the political turmoil between January 2011 and January 2014 reached 5231, of which more than 60% were killed under former interim president Adly Mansour and ex-military general and current president AbdelFatah El-Sisi. More people were killed during the Mansour-Sisi period, than during the famous uprising that led to the Mubarak’s ousting, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that followed Mubarak, and the one-year rule of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi combined.
Furthermore, over 40,000 have been arrested in events related to the political turmoil since Morsi’s ouster (figure last updated on May 15, 2014). This shocking number merely reflects the “rampant torture, arbitrary arrests, and detentions” documented in a 2014 Amnesty International report. Finally, sexual violence continues to be a systemic tool used against female protestors and detainees.
While breaking records of human rights violations, the current regime has also been using its ‘temporary’ legislative powers as parliamentary elections keep getting postponed. In parallel, presidents Adly Mansour and Sisi issued law decrees including a draconian assembly law and a widely criticized anti-terrorism law that uses overly broad terms that the government/those in power could use against political opponents.
With respect to social and economic rights, the government has also passed a law that further minimizes public scrutiny by preventing third parties from challenging state contracts. Moreover, Sisi passed a new investment law aimed at removing “obstacles” for investors precisely on the eve of an economic summit in Egypt aimed at attracting foreign investors. Aside from investors, the regime passed the law without enough dialogue with other stakeholders such as human rights NGO’s and independent workers groups.
In December 2014, the Egyptian government signed its first agreementallowing Shell Egypt and Apache Corporation to start exploring for shale gas through fracking. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a method of natural gas extraction that is controversial for its potential harmful effects on the environment.
In addition to fracking, in April 2014, the Cabinet approved the use of coal in the production of energy—another law amendment decreed in the absence of a parliament and under an extremely oppressive atmosphere. The decision ignored public warnings of coal’s negative effects and its violation of the right to health and environmental justice. Of course, hearing about the continuous incidents of imprisonment, torture, and occasional murder of peaceful protestors by police in the streets only makes it more difficult for the opposition to express its disagreement with the government’s decision.
Let me slow down a little bit; I have been throwing a great deal of facts and numbers that seems to be all over the place, from political rights to social and economic rights. This is intentional.
Most activists, commentators, and international organizations that focus on Egypt deal with those different issuesindependently of one another. While focusing on one cause could make implementation more efficient in the short term, it is important to develop a clear understanding of the correlation between the crackdown on civil liberties and the predominance of non-inclusive economic policies. The current regime would not be able to pass these painful policies that violate the social and economic rights of millions of Egyptians without using its iron stick against voices of dissent.
We have seen this correlation between attacks on civil liberties and the implementation of non-inclusive economic policies before, including Chile under Pinochet and Indonesia under Suharto. Today, there seems to be a growing awareness among activists and civil society organizations of the importance of transnational human rights work and cooperation. More organizations and social movements around the globe are getting in contact, sharing experiences and working together. Consequently, this is the time where these movements should learn from the past. It is the time when their strategies to face human rights violations should be through a holistic systematic approach that connects restrictions on political freedoms and freedom of expression to non-inclusive economic policies that violate social and economic rights, rather than dealing with violations piece by piece.
It is time to connect the dots.
*Nadeem is a 2012 graduate of the American University at Cairo and an intern on economic, social, and cultural rights at Dejusticia