Morally bankrupt, Brexit Britain rolls out the red carpet for Egyptian dictator Abdul Fattah al-Sisi

Morally bankrupt, Brexit Britain rolls out the red carpet for Egyptian dictator Abdul Fattah al-Sisi
Comment: The most powerful countries in the world, including the UK, have normalised and bolstered Sisi, while turning a blind eye to his unprecedented terror against Egyptians, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
20 Jan, 2020
Sisi is due to visit London this week [Getty]
When Boris Johnson meets Abdul Fattah al-Sisi this week in London as part of the UK-Africa Trade Summit, one name that almost certainly won’t come up is Mustafa Kassem

Kassem was a 54-year-old Egyptian-American New York Taxi driver. The husband and father of two children was visiting family in Cairo almost 7 years ago when he was swept up in the mass arrests that accompanied Sisi’s brutal coup.  Kassem, along with 700 people convicted in unjust mass trials, was sentenced to life imprisonment. 

He had been on hunger strike for over a year when last week he succumbed to apparent heart failure, becoming the latest person to die alone in a squalid Egyptian dungeon – deprived of his humanity, dignity and – most crushingly – his family. 

As tragic and heroic as Kassem's defiance might have been, the problem is that hunger strikes only work if the outside world cares about you and your struggle. 

Unfortunately for Kassem, and the many other victims of the regime, the world has went in the opposite direction. The most powerful countries and blocs in the world have normalised and bolstered Sisi, while turning a blind eye to his unprecedented terror against Egyptians. 

The US government, led as it is by a president who once referred to Sisi as 'his favourite dictator' (not that US policy towards Sisi was different under Trump’s predecessor), reacted to the death, nay martyrdom, of one of its own citizens at the hands of Sisi in a deliberately muted and weak manner, with no chance of sanctions, as proposed by some members of congress.

In fact, the day after Kassem's death, Trump met with Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry and refused to even say if the matter had been brought up, which is a bleak omen for the other US citizens who languish in Egyptian dungeons.

The UK government, regardless of which party occupies it, has an awful track record of not merely supporting but enabling the crimes of Sisi and his predecessor Mubarak, as well as a host of other economic and geopolitical allies that carry out a vast array of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity. 

But it ought to be noted that this isn't business as usual with Sisi.  Mubarak was an authoritarian dictator, but Sisi's terror, within an Egyptian context, is genuinely unprecedented. 

Since Sisi massacred over 1000 people in one single day on August 21, 2013, the world order, including the British government, has grown more welcoming to these kind of monstrous activities.

I have previously named this era, with only a hint of hyperbole, the Age of Monsters – wherein the world is increasingly defined by the political will of new authoritarians or the the authoritarian-minded, such as Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Benjamin Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Rodrigo Duterte, Mohamed bin Salman and Xi Jinping 

Or, interrelated to this, we've seen the triumph of great backwards movements and events against progress and that degrade and demean already flimsy values such as 'human rights' and 'international law'.  This ranges from Brexit and the electoral rise of neo-fascism in Europe, to a global tolerance for genocide or crimes against humanity. 

The world has come to tolerate the genocide in Syria, while only diplomatic lip service, which is better than nothing, has been paid to the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

The EU continues to get away with what has been described as genocidal policies against refugees in the Mediterranean.

The world continues to tacitly or overtly embrace China, despite its fascistic persecution of Uighur Muslims.  As well as the US, UK and EU directly aiding the near-genocidal war waged by Saudi and the UAE in Yemen, states and international big businesses are helping to whitewash the crimes of these countries in myriad ways.

Isolationism and indifference to state brutality, including genocides, define the order of our era.  Political realism, where issues such as trade, economic affairs and geopolitical matters (including 'counter-terrorism') are placed above the victims of tyranny.  At no point since perhaps the early-to-mid 20th century, has the issue of 'human rights' carried less importance on the global stage than as today. 

And nothing is different regarding Sisi's crimes.  Last week, merely a day after the death of Mustafa Kassem, Egyptian police raided the offices of the Turkish state-backed news outlet the Andalou Agency, with the disappearance of three Egyptian and two Turkish journalists in the process. 

This comes as part of a wider crackdown on journalism in Egypt, with Egypt among the top three worst offenders in the world when it comes to locking up or disappearing journalists. 

This itself is part of the aforementioned reign of terror unleashed by Sisi for over 6 years, with tens of thousands imprisoned and sentenced to death without anything remotely resembling a fair trial (including children).  Additionally, Egypt’s continuous counterrevolution has led to what Human Rights Watch has called a 'torture epidemic' in the country, including 'beatings, electric shocks … and even rape'.

The security forces run rampant against even the slightest dissent, with 3-year-old state of emergency and a slew of tyrannical laws providing them with the vicious justification to make Egypt one of the most repressive states on earth. Nowhere is safe: not social media, not private gatherings and certainly not places of learning.

Earlier this month, an Egyptian lecturer, speaking under strict anonymity, told how security forces had been attempting to plant 'subversive materials' in university libraries to catch out potential thought criminals against Sisi’s regime. 

In an alternate reality, Johnson would loudly and publicly bring these matters up before considering any advancement of trade with the Sisi regime.  For the deaths of Kassem or any other victim of Sisi to have political impact, the world needs to provide consequences for Sisi to fear.

Unfortunately, in this regard and related to the deterioration in world order, Johnson's government is the perfect partner for Sisi. 

In the context of Brexit, Britain – with its already unreliable record when it comes to countenancing human rights before its own self-interest – has been further reduced to the international trade equivalent of a dodgy door-to-door salesman, there is even less incentive for Johnson to meaningfully emphasise let alone reprimand Sisi for his continued gross violations of human rights. 

Johnson certainly made no mention of these issues when the leaders met in September at the UN, instead heaping praise on Sisi as his regime crushed protests.

Assuming it enters it at all, Sisi's visit to London, like Kassem's death, or any other crime committed by the regime against Egyptians, will fleetingly pass in and out of the consciousness of the country. 

The reason for this, namely that Johnson doesn’t want to and, by the narrow interests of Brexit, can't afford to care. 

Though it won't even enter into the popular consciousness of increasingly backwards Britain, it's this malicious indifference that fuels the Sisi regime, and indeed tyrants like him, in continuing and even escalating its reign of terror. 

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

Join the conversation @The_NewArab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.