Human Rights in Egypt
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry recently went on the record, stating that certain European human rights groups have publicized inaccurate information about the human rights situation in Egypt. Shoukry did so following the release of a joint statement put out by Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Britain, and Canada. The statement criticized Egypt for detaining Egyptian human rights lawyer Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy who had, until recently, been assisting an investigation revolving around the murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD researcher. Hegazy was en route a UN working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances in Geneva when he mysteriously disappeared.
According to The Guardian, he “reappeared before prosecutors” days later, charged with “managing an illegal group,” “spreading false news,” and “cooperating with foreign organizations.” Hegazy was already a very notable individual given his commitment to representing families of those who were “forcibly disappeared” by individuals and/or entities within the Egyptian state.
The aforementioned article published by The Guardian defines forcible disappearances as “secretly executed arrests that are followed by captivity in unknown locations without access to legal services”. Accordingly, Hegazy’s “disappearance” itself constitutes forcible disappearance. It has been suspected that the great deal of domestic and international condemnation brought onto the Egyptian state by the investigation into Regeni’s death has led the regime to attempt to silence Hegazy.
Still, the growing desire for answers surrounding the crime that Hegazy had investigated ultimately prevented the intended effect. As Regeni, the PhD student, had been found in a ditch “on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital [Cairo]” with “signs of extensive torture”, it has been, and will continue to be, nearly impossible to facilitate a broad erasure of public skepticism concerning his death. Signs of torture supposedly included cigarette burns, cuts, contusions, along with letters carved into Regeni’s skin. Signs of severe, repeated beatings include the student’s broken neck, which was a fatal aspect of the assault.
It has been noted by some publications that Egyptian authorities initially blamed a hit-and-run, and later a criminal gang, for the assault. Such inconsistency, in conjunction with other factors, has ultimately led suspicions to be redirected towards the Egyptian government. Moreover, the mistrust has intensified due to governmental failure to investigate claims that Egyptian security services played a role in the assault. While there have not been solid revelations to certify these claims, it is not far-fetched to purport that there is a significant chance that the Egyptian state played a role in the assault and murder.
Such possibility is likely particularly due to the nature of Regeni’s PhD research, which focused on Egyptian labor unions and how they galvanized past uprisings. The regime currently in power has scrutinized scholarly study of Egyptian social infrastructure in the past. At the base level, this kind of research is most likely perceived as suspicious, excessive inquiry. It is more important to realize, however, that Egyptian leaders sometimes perceive these endeavors as precursors to direct threats to regime security (e.g. a revolt).
If entities within the Egyptian state did in fact view Regeni’s research as a threat, and commit acts that have been accused by media outlets, then the state’s reaction to media reports that Regeni had initially been in police custody, and later in a Homeland security facility, was certainly revealing. In particular, the Reuters Cairo bureau chief was directly threatened with criminal prosecution, and eventually left the country as a result of these threats.
Reactions to the media reports were damaging to the domestic and international credibility of the Egyptian state. By attempting to silence media outlets, the state only increased suspicions of foul play on its part in Regeni’s death, and reaffirmed sentiments about Hegazy’s alleged “disappearance.” Even with this multitude of facts, it is ultimately difficult to easily piece the entire truth together within the near future. Still, the uncertain and verifiable aspects of this incident equally speak towards broader human rights issues in Egypt.