Sisi: one year in power, many apologies to make

Sisi: one year in power, many apologies to make
Analysis: Egypt's president has apologised for any abuse of civilians. A Human Rights Watch report shows he has a lot of apologising to do, writes Imogen Lambert.
4 min read
09 June, 2015
Sisi has lead a harsh campaign against dissent [Getty]
On Sunday, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi apologised for any rights abuses committed under his presidency in Egypt.

"I apologise to every Egyptian citizen who has been subjected to any abuse. I am accountable for anything that happens to an Egyptian citizen," Sisi said, a year after he took office.

According to a Human Rights Watch report on the one year anniversary of Sisi's rule, there are many apologies to make.

The group's report on Egypt, released this week to mark Sisi's year in power, cited several published reports on rights abuses in the county.

It cited the quasi-governmental Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which in May said that political violence had resulted in about 2,600 deaths in 2013-2014, including 1,250 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and 550 other civilians.

In 2013, interim Egyptian president Adly Mansour passed a "protest law" that in effect forbade demonstrations. The Egyptian security forces kill and imprisoned many activists under the jurisdiction of this law.

HRW cited the well-publicised case on January 24, the anniversary of the revolution, when Shaimma al-Sabbagh was shot in Talaat Harb square in a small peaceful protest organised by the Socialist Alliance.

The photos of Shaimma dying in the arms of a friend made international news. The Egyptian government said her death was a tragic accident.

One day before Shaimma's death, 17-year-old Sondos Ridha, was killed in a lesser-reported incident.  

Sondos is one of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed since the removal of Morsi, with the report referencing the massacre of at least 900 people in August 2014 at Rabaa, when Sisi was defence minister. Human Rights watch described the incident as a "crime against humanity".  
31-year old Shaimma was shot at a protest in January.

The HRW's report is one of many to have been critical of Sisi, who has used the state to suppress demonstrations against him.

A US congressional report in May stated that 16,000 people in Egypt have been arrested between July 2013 and March 2015, many of whom were accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some of the best known secular activists are now imprisoned under the protest law, including Alaa Abdel-el Fattah, Ahmed Douma, Mahienour al-Masry, Ahmed Maher and Hend al-Nefea.

Many members of the Muslim Brotherhood including its leaders have also been prosecuted under Sisi, with judges handing down at least 669 death sentences during mass trials of alleged Brotherhood supporters and members, including Mohammed Badie, the group's supreme guide.

In May, Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to death, as well as notable academics such as Emad Shahin and top Brotherhood officials.

The report condemns the forced evictions and demolition of houses in Sinai which been destroyed in order create a “buffer zone”, between Egypt and neighbouring Gaza, with plans to destroy homes on the Palestinian side.

The Egyptian military has also destroyed the tunnels from Egypt to Gaza which were a life line to Palestinian residents, and closed Rafah border, and preventing injured from passing through during the war.    

As well as rights groups detailing the continuing use of
      Western governments that subordinated human rights in their relations with Egypt during the Mubarak era seem to repeat their mistake

Joe stork, HRW
torture in Egyptian prisons, last month, a report released by the International Federation of Human Rights said that the use of sexual violence as a weapon against political opponents and detainees had “surged” since Sisi took power.

On Friday, Egyptian human rights organisations reported concern about a new wave of forced disappearances taking place in Egypt, who's families are now campaigning for their release.

Egyptians mourning the death of friends and loved ones, and the imprisonment of others, have yet to see one single member of the security forces held accountable for these rights abuses.

The US continues to support Sisi, despite criticising Egypt. The Obama administration says the two countries have "common interests in countering transnational threats in an increasingly volatile region".

The UK has also been seeking to boost trade cooperation with Egypt, investing $5 billion in the country last year, and continues to sell arms to the country. In 2014, the British prime minister, David Cameron, urged Sisi to ensure human rights are respected in his fight against militants.

"The Sisi government is acting as though to restore stability Egypt needs a dose of repression the likes of which it hasn’t seen for decades, but its treatment is killing the patient," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch on the one year anniversary of Sisi's rule.

"What makes it worse is that western governments that subordinated human rights in their relations with Egypt during the [Hosni] Mubarak era seem ready to repeat their mistake," he said.

Although there is strong opposition to Sisi in Egypt, it is fractured between Brotherhood-affiliated "anti-coup" protesters, secular activists and civil society, and those not opposed to military backed government but who advocate reform.

However, there are also recent rumours of splits in the Egyptian government, and reports that Sisi's traditional allies in the media are now critiquing his regime.

On Tuesday, Egypt's foreign ministry slammed the HRW report as being "politicised", and said that the rights group has lead a systematic campaign against Egypt and "supports those who carry out acts of violence".  

Ultimately, only time will tell if Sisi will be apologising for more abuses, after another year of his rule.