Sisi government creates human rights watchdog to protect the real victims, the Sisi government.

Egypt has created a new high-powered human rights watchdog agency, but its primary mission isn't to protect Egyptians from violations.

Instead, the body is foremost aimed at protecting the government from allegations of rights abuses and defending it on the international stage.

The new body reflects an attitude of the state under President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi that sees accusations of human rights violations as intended to undermine the government and cause instability at a time when it is facing militant threats and trying to rebuild a battered economy.

Officials have already started a campaign against "false rumours" and "fake news" and have in some cases detained those who speak out.

At the same time, the government has sought to redefine or broaden human rights, declaring new "rights" to fight terrorism and protect the state.

Critics see that as an attempt to legitimise alleged abuses by security forces and detention of dissidents or draw the international community's attention away from political rights.

Its main members are representatives of the foreign ministry, the military, the intelligence agencies and the interior ministry, which oversees a police force that has been accused of torture and forced disappearances, claims that are categorically denied by the government.

Gamal Eid, Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist said: "Unfortunately we were disappointed by the formation of the committee as its main members are representatives of government agencies that have nothing to do with human rights. I wonder what the relationship is between the defence ministry, intelligence, and interior ministry when it comes to human rights?"

The mission of the body, according to a cabinet statement, is to "respond to claims" made against Egypt's human rights record and formulate a "unified Egyptian vision" that is stated during regional and international meetings.

Rights campaigners say the new body is a reincarnation of a near identical one that was in total charge of human rights issue between the 1980s and 2004 when it was dissolved.

In 2004, the government created the National Council for Human Rights, or NCHR, a quasi-state body that enjoys a margin of freedom and voices some criticism of officials and police.

That year also saw the start of a series of modest political reforms introduced by the government that allowed a measure of openness for opposition forces and are believed by many to have paved the way for the 2011 pro-democracy uprising that ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt's human rights record is being scrutinised more closely than at any time in decades, chiefly because of the large-scale crackdown that followed the 2013 coup ouster by the military, led by el-Sissi, of Egypt's first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.

Authorities have jailed thousands of conservative Muslims along with secular activists and rolled back freedoms won in the 2011 uprising, suppressed civil society groups, silenced critics in the media and slapped travel bans on dozens of rights activists, as well as freezing their assets.

El-Sissi, in office since 2014, says his priorities are security and reviving the economy, devoting considerable resources to the fight against "Islamic militants" in the Sinai Peninsula and introducing ambitious reforms to overhaul the economy.

He has publicly expressed his contempt for politics and his disapproval of the 2011 uprising while projecting an image of himself as a saviour or a patriotic, God-fearing leader determined to make his country stable and prosperous.

To him, the right to health care, suitable housing and women's rights are just as important as human rights and freedom of speech. He often points to the chaos and war in Syria, Yemen and Libya as cautionary tales against abrupt change.

There are already at least five other state bodies with mandates on human rights of some form or another.

Bahieddin Hassan, a prominent rights campaigner who lives in exile in Paris, believes the creation of a new one to address the international community is rooted in fears that the US Congress may in the future seek cuts in Washington's military aid to Egypt - running at $1.3 billion a year - or that the EU could move to reduce aid or investment.

Hassam pointed to el-Sissi's recent decision to review a law that places draconian restrictions on civil society groups, a move he believes was taken under pressure from the U.S. Congress and Germany, one of Egypt's largest European trade partners.

Washington suspended $195 million in military aid to Egypt in August 2017 over its human rights record.

The money was released in July, although the US State Department acknowledged remaining concerns over rights and governance.

"The human rights conditions in Egypt are very poor. The number of detained journalists, people imprisoned for their opinions and the thousands who are in pre-trial detention, is a reflection of that poor situation. A record of human rights improvement in any country is measured by the halting of human rights violations, not by forming a committee (referring to a newly formed government committee in Egypt dealing with human rights) aimed at deceiving the international community and curbing independent voices from telling the truth" said Gamal Eid, Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies