In response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s comment that Egypt must do better in protecting human rights, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al Sisi said the West should not expect the same freedoms for Egyptians as it does for its own people.
When French President Emmanuel Macron visited Egypt on January 28, 2019, he met with his counterpart Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi, and one of the subjects he brought up was Egypt’s bad human rights record.
In a joint press conference with Sisi, Macron said that while he respects the sovereignty of Egypt, the country needed to improve on its human rights record. Sisi responded by saying: “We are not Europe.”
“We have interests including human rights. In 2017, we appreciated Egypt’s need to achieve stability,” Macron said. “Since then, bloggers and activists were put in prison. Things took a different path. Putting a blogger in jail is detrimental to the image of a country I love. The best minds need discussions and freedoms.”
He added: “The activity of the civil society is vital. I respect the president’s endeavours to achieve stability and development.
“But, some individual cases do not represent a threat to stability.”
Egypt’s “unabated human rights crisis”
Calling it an “unabated crisis”, Amnesty International has some harsh words for Egypt’s track record on human rights.
“The authorities used torture and other ill-treatment and enforced disappearance against hundreds of people, and dozens were extrajudicially executed with impunity,” Amnesty reported.
“Arbitrary arrests and detentions followed by grossly unfair trials of government critics, peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders were routine,” the report continued. “Mass unfair trials continued before civilian and military courts, with dozens sentenced to death.”
Sisi, responding to Macron’s comments, said that Egypt differs from Europe and that “differences are normal”. He had used such language in interviews before, so shown in a precious TRT World report from about a year ago.
Sisi continued by pointing out that the world cannot be homogenised. He said: “Trying to do so may not turn to be right. [Macron] talked about the size of the population and freedoms. We are part of a turbulent region. A big project failed and that was establishing a theocratic state. Let’s focus on efforts addressing human rights by the state and not just by Sisi.”
Sisi’s approach is reminiscent of the term bon pour l’Orient. The term used to be stamped on diplomas earned by colonial students in France, indicating that the diploma was useless in the West, but was ‘good enough’ to secure employment in the East.
Sisi’s comment that Egypt is “not Europe” suggests that the human rights standards that apply in France and the developed world do not apply to countries such as Egypt.