Today in Egypt, human rights activists are banned from traveling, they are investigated for receiving foreign funding and they are regularly harassed by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and other government agencies for receiving funds.

Today in Egypt, human rights activists are banned from traveling, they are investigated for receiving foreign funding and they are regularly harassed by the Ministry of Social Solidarity and other government agencies for receiving funds.

Jamal Eid is one of Egypt’s top human rights activists and in 2004, he founded The Arab Network for Human Rights Information.  Eid was recently banned from travelling and had his assets frozen due to what is known as “The Foreign Funding Court Case.” Correspondents interviewed Jamal Eid and asked him about the current human rights conditions in Egypt, and how these conditions affect activists as well as the country’s international image.

 Jamal Eid, how do you assess the state of human rights conditions in Egypt?

Egypt today has the worst human rights conditions in its history: we now witness systematic torture, forced disappearance, military tribunals, unfair civil court rulings and a complete absence of liberties and economic and social rights. Unlike in Mubarak’s times, when the government simply denied everything, the government today openly admits committing these abuses –through security personnel behavior- and explains them as individual cases.

What has happened to the human rights movement since the January 2011 revolution?

Despite the drastic increase in human rights abuses, the human rights movement today is at its best. One of the empowering factors is the coordination between human rights organizations and other civil society organizations like Kifaya (Enough) and Journalists for Change, among others. These alliances that began to take form before 2011, widened the scale of the movement and made suppressing human rights activity nearly impossible for the post 2011 revolution regimes.

How could the human rights defense front widen under state persecution against civil society organizations and the general political movement in the country?

After the 2011 revolution that ousted Mubarak, the Military Council – an extension of Mubarak’s regime- took over and tried to suppress the civil society movement. However, there were young men then who took a stand against these abuses and managed through social media to create groups that affectively pressured the regime. The Military Council allowed the activity of 50 organizations of which 15 to 20 organizations are considered serious or significant. Today, the regime is repeating the same policy, whereby 150 organizations were founded only 12 are working seriously and exposing abuses. Moreover, a number of the organizations that were active in the times of Mubarak and the Military council took the government’s side after June 30.

Some people link the deterioration of human rights conditions to counter terrorism and the ongoing struggle between the state and the Islamist Parties, how do you see this argument?

Terrorism and religious extremism exist all over the world and there are many ways countries go about combating it. We we going to keep combating it with the heavy security hammer, or are we going to create an entire system of legislation to combat corruption and achieve social justice as other countries have. Belgium for example, released one of the three men arrested after the Brussels attacks and France withdrew its decision strip two of the Paris attackers of the French citizenship. In Egypt however, the state adapted an iron fist policy that resulted in the diminishment of the popularity of the current regime, collapse of freedoms, disinformation, and the creation of a police state that nurtures terrorism more than combating it.

Why did you not propose alternatives to the iron fist policy in combating terrorism?

There are drawers in the Itihadia Palace and the Ministry of Internal Affairs that are packed with counter terrorism initiatives presented by civil society organizations. These initiatives consist of legislation suggested in years 2011 and 2012, some of which were followed at the time of the revolution. However, when the counter-revolution ruled, it ignored these suggestions and readapted the harsh security policies. In addition, it began a campaign of revenge against the January 2011 revolution; hence, the only option we have left is exposing its human rights abuses.

How do you comment on the usual answer given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs, exonerating itself from torture accusations by claiming them to be “individual cases”?

These claims are far from reality; in fact, the only thing that took place in individual cases was holding prison guards accountable for torture. Torture in Egyptian detention facilities became systematic because the old structure of the Ministry of Internal affairs remained unchanged, even after ousting Mubarak and the former minister Habib Al-Adeli. The civil society movement can not take the blame in this situation, for it had provided many initiatives to reform the Ministry and the security apparatus, but none of the powers that ruled Egypt since then agreed to take steps in that direction.

There are those who accuse human rights activists of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and turning a blind eye on their bad human rights record, how do you respond to such accusations?

Human rights activists have the duty to defend those under abuse with disregard to their political backgrounds. Perhaps I should recall the fact that when Mubarak was being trailed and some voices demanded harsh punishments, we insisted that he received a fair trial, as we called for improving the conditions of other prisoners. The same thing is happening today as we defend the rights of Islamist detainees, as much as we defend the rights of those in affiliation with the ruling power in Egypt, like journalists Ahmad Mousa and Tawfeek Okasha.

You come from a left wing background, how does this background affect your struggle in defending Islamist parties?

As a matter of fact I am proud of my leftist background, for it helped me stand more firmly for human rights and social and criminal justice. This background is the compass that directs me against injustice, regardless of the political views of the victim.

Human rights groups are often accused of receiving funds from foreign parties, like the case that was recently banned from publishing a few days ago, how do you see these accusations?

The foreign funding accusations are one of the cheap tactics used by the government to counter civil society organizations. The funds themselves are not a problem, the state receives foreign funds and the state affiliate organizations also receive enormous funds. Therefore, I see these accusations as driven by the state’s desire to shut down the public debate and silence criticism.

Funding for me is not a problem, only the award I received can cover the expenses of my activism, however I am using it to build libraries in poor areas, of which five are complete, we are working on the sixth. (Human rights Activist Jamal Eid received Roland Beger Foundation Award for Human Dignity in year 2011 and it was presented to him by the German President Christian Wulff and the President of the foundation Roland Beger).

I could have stayed in the United States and enjoyed a high salary. The problem is that there, the state wants civil society organizations to be an extension of its secret security apparatus. I remember that before I traveled to Germany, the government sent its affiliate organizations there to whitewash its image and prize human rights conditions here, at a time when true human rights defenders were banned from travelling. 

What about the agendas behind foreign funds?

We have previously agreed with other civil society organizations to refuse foreign funding, and we said that we would encourage volunteer efforts. We also called on the state to stop harassing local businessmen who wanted to finance civil society organizations. Moreover, we stressed that funds must be given with transparency about the donor and the how funds are spent, while providing a legal framework to enable the legal system to monitor the process. However, all these propositions were refused and Foreign Funding accusations continue to haunt true human rights defenders until today – even though we only receive funds from international human rights organizations and never from any government.

You demanded that the fund-receiving process be open to the public.  Why then have not yet registered Al-Shabaka as a civil society organization, like its fellow organizations?

 Al Shabaka was founded in the days of the Mubarak regime, we applied for a civil society organization status, but both applications were rejected. In the end, we had to found a law firm.

And why were you banned from travelling?

First, all I knew about why I was banned from traveling is what I have read in the newspapers, where I also learned that there is decision to freeze my assets. However, when I personally inquired about it, I found out that it was merely a punishment for the legal and political positions that I have taken. Unfortunately, the interrogative judge in my case relied directly on the testimony of a security officer, but when they inquired from the bank as to whether I received any funds to my personal account, the bank completely disproved these claims. This proves that the desire behind these accusations is to make life unbearable for human rights activists.

Do you think that the deterioration in human rights conditions might be a driver for future change, as it was in the Mubarak era?

We are in fact, suffering a similar situation; however, the problems with the regime are much bigger than this. The regime has lost the popular support, failed to find real economic solutions, and, due to its actions, its reputation outside of Egypt is terrible. Therefore, it is now confused and unpredictable, so we cannot really foresee the future.