Release of Human Rights Activists in Egypt bodes well

In a promising advance, earlier this month on the 3rd December, Egypt released three human rights activists from southern Cairo’s Tora prison following an international campaign on their behalf. The three men, from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), had been detained in early November after a public meeting with 13 foreign diplomats and ambassadors, including representatives from the U.K., Germany, and Canada, to discuss human rights in the country, leading to charges of spreading false news, alongside charges of joining a terror group. The three men released included EIPR Executive Director Gasser Abdel-Razek, Criminal Justice Director Karim Ennarah, and Administrative Director Mohamed Basheer. In a statement, EIPR said that they were now either home or on their way home. However, a gender rights researcher for EIPR, Patrick George Zaky, remains behind bars since his arrest in February, when he visited Cairo from Bologna where he was completing a Master’s degree.

EIPR is a renowned Egyptian human rights group, operating in a context where many organisations have had to stop working in the face of a sustained crackdown on independent organisations by Egypt’s government under President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Indeed, EIPR has worked since 2002 with the aim of strengthening and protecting basic rights and freedoms in Egypt through research, advocacy, and the support of litigation. They also document civil rights violations, prison conditions, sectarian violence, and discrimination against religious minorities and women.

However, human rights advocates are not the only the only group of individuals targeted under President El-Sisi. Others targeted include Islamist political opponents, pro-democracy activists, journalists, and online critics. In fact, the same day Gasser Abdel-Razek appeared before a prosecutor for questioning, the 23rd November, judicial authorities added opposition politician Abdel-Monaem Abul Fetouh, activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, human rights lawyer Mohamed El-Baqer, and 25 others to a terrorism watch list for five years without charging them with a criminal offence or giving them an opportunity to challenge the evidence.

Nonetheless, the release of the EIPR activists and the October release of satirical blogger Shadi Abu Zeid after two and a half years in detention (also arrested for spreading false news and belonging to a terrorist group) are encouraging advances. These releases demonstrate that President El-Sisi’s government is responsive to international pressure. With the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing her concern at the “profound chilling effect on an already weakened Egyptian civil society” alongside concerns voiced by traditional allies of Egypt such as the United Kingdom and the United States, there is clearly international attention on the matter. In fact, Italian, Irish, and other ambassadors had sent letters to Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry asking for the release of the EIPR staff, and British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab discussed the matter with Minister Shoukry.

On the other hand, whilst France had initially joined those who had voiced criticism about the arrests of the EIPR activists, on Monday 7th December at a meeting between President Emmanuel Macron and President El-Sisi at the Palais de l’Elysée in Paris, President Macron stated that defence and commercial ties would be maintained with Egypt and future French arms sales to Egypt would go ahead, as cooperation between the two countries was paramount in the struggle against terrorism and would contribute to regional stability. This statement was met with fierce criticism from liberal and left-wing French politicians over concerns about human rights violations.

However, President Macron affirmed at a joint press conference that: “I will not condition matters of defence and economic cooperation on these disagreements [over human rights], it is more effective to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott which would only reduce the effectiveness of one of our partners in the fight against terrorism”. Indeed, France views the relationship with Egypt as crucial to the containment of armed insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula and militias that oppose General Haftar in Libya. Nevertheless, French officials stressed that President Macron had brought up the issue of human rights in private with President El-Sisi.

Despite the encouraging release of the activists, criminal charges against them have not been dropped, and Cairo’s Third Circuit Terrorism Court ordered the temporary freezing of all three men’s personal assets, property, and bank accounts. Hossam Bahgat, the founder and former director of EIPR, has had his assets frozen for years, and has been banned from leaving Egypt. Additionally, rights groups estimate that there are still as many as 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Whilst the release is a move in the right direction by President El-Sisi, there is still room for more progress in the respect of the important contributions of civil society in Egypt, and the continued release of more detainees, especially given the current risk prisoners face in crowded Egyptian prisons where few physical distancing measures are in place. A positive next step could include the release of EIPR researcher Patrick George Zaky, and more of his activist colleagues.

UN Oral Intervention: Addressing the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute

The following has been prepared by Next Century Foundation Research Officer Udit Mahalingam for submission by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

The Next Century Foundation is troubled by the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam dispute between the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. A dispute that also impacts both the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.  

On July 21st 2020, after a season of unusually heavy rain, Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed announced the completion of the Renaissance Dam’s first filling stage.

We are concerned that, in choosing to fill the dam unilaterally, Ethiopia violated the 2015 Agreement on the Declaration of the Principles on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, and the fundamental tripartite “spirit of co-operation” contained within the agreement.  

The Next Century Foundation urges Ethiopia, and indeed all other parties to the Declaration of Principles, to respect their associated legal obligations in the implementation and operation of the Renaissance Dam. 

We are aware that Egypt would like the filling process to be conducted over a twenty-year period – a timeframe at odds with Ethiopia’s proposed seven years. 

The Next Century Foundation instead suggests that filling be conducted over fourteen years – a fair compromise in view of Egypt and Ethiopia’s mutual water-sharing interests.  

Nevertheless, we recognise Ethiopia’s sovereign right to construct the dam, and thereby address its own developmental needs. We note Ethiopia’s exclusion from historic Nile water-sharing treaties, such as the 1929 and 1959 Nile Waters Agreements. 

The Next Century Foundation urges the countries affected by the Renaissance Dam dispute to introduce a comprehensive water-sharing agreement within the Nile Basin. 

We note that Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have failed to ratify the UN Water Convention and fully incorporate its provisions into existing national laws concerning the use of water. The Next Century Foundation thus implores all Nile Basin states to ratify the UN Water Convention, and thereby facilitate progress towards a comprehensive water-sharing agreement. 

Push to build Canal to restore Nile water level after Ethiopian Dam

The following has been submitted by the Next Century Foundation as a statement to the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council:

The Next Century Foundation is concerned about the ramifications of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Nile River water levels will be significantly reduced during the years over which the dam is being filled by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. This affects the Arab Republic of Egypt, as well as of course the Republic of Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan.

We note recent discussions between the Governments of Egypt and the Republic of South Sudan on the viability of the Jonglei Canal’s construction in the Sudd wetland. This draining of the wetlands could compensate for downstream Nile River water loss caused by dam construction in the short term, and restore the Nile to historic water levels in the longer term.

The Sudd is one of the world’s largest wetlands, but it loses more than 50% of its water to evaporation annually, lessening downstream states’ water availability. The proposed canal (or more probably two canals) could divert approximately 4.8 cubic gigameters that would otherwise evaporate over the wetland. As well as restoring short term water level loss from dam construction, in the longer term it could ameliorate losses as a consequence of drought.

Such a project would be beneficial to the agricultural development of South Sudan. We urge Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan to cooperate with South Sudan and investigate the viability of the Jonglei Canal. But we advise countries concerned to remember of the project’s potential ecological and environmental ramifications:

  • The displacement of riparian populations along the Sudd wetlands.
  • Disruptions to seasonal movement of livestock and wildlife.
  • Reduction of rainfall in the Sudd region, spurred by the diversion of water.
  • Any potential increase in the release of global warming associated gasses as the wetlands are drained.

With those caveats we regard this project as urgent.

Living in the Shadows of Disability

Oral intervention to be given by the Next Century Foundation at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Item 3 Clustered ID on 6th of March 2018, the special report on disability:

Mr President.  The Next Century Foundation is committed to fighting for total inclusivity everywhere. Persons with disabilities are equal citizens entitled to equal rights and opportunities. We therefore call on all nations to promote public policies that are conducive to the alleviation of hardships for society’s most vulnerable.

In the Middle East and North Africa discrimination towards persons with disabilities continues to result in their wholesale exclusion from society. This discrimination goes beyond mere social stigma and includes physical barriers to access to transport and buildings and extends to a lack of access to vital health services, full employment and basic education.

In the Middle East, disabled persons are often forced to live in the shadows of a society that refuses to acknowledge them. In Egypt for instance, it is even difficult to accurately estimate the number of Egyptians living with disability because families often hide their disabled children. Cultural misconceptions also abound and disability is seen in some communities as a form of punishment inflicted by malevolent spirits.

Further, in war torn areas such as Syria, the physical devastation has not only forcibly displaced mentally and physically disabled persons but has also destroyed the very infrastructures that could alleviate their suffering.

While extensive discussion on such issues is helpful, direct action needs to be taken. We therefore call on the UN to exert its influence to encourage Arab states to establish national strategies to develop their institutional capacities to deal with the barriers that persons with disabilities face and to create a regional dialogue on how to tackle the social and cultural stigmas associated with disability. Following from this, there must be comprehensive policies and programs put in place that are both sensitive to the needs of disabled persons, but also appreciative of their independence and their place among ordinary citizens.

We believe that in the absence of an inclusive environment that involves disabled persons in every facet of social life, there cannot be genuine equality anywhere. To this end, we must recognize and acknowledge that disability is a societal problem, not an individual one. Thank you.

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf

 

Poor Egypt and poor Sinai

Poor Egypt. Can you imagine it? Prices of goods have gone through the roof, including the price of basic foodstuffs. These are harsh times.

Meanwhile, even the elite suffer, with the introduction of more draconian taxes.

However, President Sisi remains moderately popular. America still continues to provide huge financial support to the Egyptian army. And there is still some Gulf money coming in, though less than there once was. And nobody wants more revolution and counter revolution. So, for now, Egyptians are patient. They have no choice. Indeed, many are fiercely loyal to President Sisi.

The one source of income that truly filters through to the people in Egypt is tourism. But this is an industry that limps along at best. What, then, can be done?

Peace in the Sinai would make such a difference. Each time there is trouble from the Arabs of the Sinai, its sets Egyptian tourism back on its heels.

Of course, it’s not just that. Each time there is an attack on a Coptic church. Each time there is a killing of any kind like the killing of the Italian PHD student, Giulio Regeni in 2016, tourism is knocked back severely.

The thing is that Egypt has never quite got the knack of dealing with its social, political and ethnic minorities, like the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Copts, the Sinai Arabs and the Nubians. But they are Egypt. All of them. Egypt is a mosaic.

And the best starting point in sorting out the conundrum that is Egypt would be to deal with the Sinai Arabs. And to deal with them in a spirit of brotherly love.

All that is needed is one major industrial project in the unhappy town of Al Arish, Sinai’s de facto capital. A steelworks or something. It would change the mood of the people of Sinai, and potentially mark the beginning of the end for extremism in Egypt.

Banksy - "There is always Hope"

Veritas Omnia Vincit

On 13 September 2017, Italy’s ambassador Giampaolo Cantini was sent back to the Egyptian capital after more than one year of soured relations between the two countries over the death of the Italian PhD Cambridge student, Giulio Regeni, in Cairo in January 2016. The 28-year-old student was tortured and killed in Egypt, allegedly by the Egyptian security services who, since the very outset of the affair, have denied any involvement.

The issue quickly triggered an open diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Italy due to al-Sīsī’s government’s repeated avoidance of their responsibility to investigate the murder in the face of hard evidence implying that the Egyptian security services were culpable. For more than one year, faced with the hardline stance taken by the Italian government as they strove to obtain the names of those responsible and the reason for this abhorrent act, the Egyptian authorities have been trying to cover up the truth, forging documents and misleading Italian magistrates with false trails. This misdirection is the umpteenth deplorable act of a state whose crackdown on human rights is going down in history as one of the worst in years. And while everything seemed to suggest the diplomatic deadlock was unlikely to break, out of the blue the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo and the crisis magically resolved, as if it had never happened.

No change of strategy, official apology or acknowledgment of guilt was issued by the Egyptian authorities. Likewise, no clear explanation was provided by the Italian government on the matter. So, what led the Italian government to take the incongruous decision to give up its legitimate right to pursue the truth about the brutal death of one of its citizens in a foreign land? Interestingly, the solution to this conundrum may not lie too far away. And with a subtle combination of imagination and cynicism, we might be able to find it.

If the world ran according to a Machiavellian conception of politics, then one might think that everything happens for a reason and nothing in politics is left to chance. Accordingly, one might think for instance that the investigation into the death of Giulio was sidelined in exchange for a halt of the migration flow from Libya to Italy, given the strong friendship that binds Al-Sīsī to Haftar, the Libyan strongman in control of the eastern part of the country. Indeed, the bizarre coincidence of the sudden halt in migrant influxes to Italy on those same days when the Italian ambassador was sent back to Cairo, after years of unsuccessful attempts to curb them, might represent enough evidence to a more cynical mind. Or, equally, the complacency of the Italian government in not taking action when confronted with some “explosive evidence” on the case provided by the Obama administration could serve as a further clue in this respect.

Nobody will ever know what happened on those days for it is no longer the intention of the Italian government to unravel the truth. People will never know for sure why Giulio was killed, who tortured and assassinated him; neither will they know why the Italian government abruptly sent its ambassador back to Cairo, forever waiving the right to justice for one of its citizens, a son of Italy. The truth will be covered up, wiped out according in the Italian tradition of state secrets.

And now only sorrow is left. Sorrow of a girlfriend in losing the love of her life. Sorrow of a family in losing a son. Sorrow of a nation in losing its future and its honour. Yes, its honour. Honour because Giulio is not just a human viciously slaughtered on foreign soil. Giulio represents a vision, a feeling, an idea. The idea that unites men and women of different countries and different cultures; the idea that human rights violations in Egypt are real, raw and ruthless, and affect men and women whatever their nationality; the idea that Italy is a country whose leaders had no hesitation in selling the truth, trust and hope of its own citizens as well as its own dignity in exchange for some political or economic payoff; the idea that western democracies “fill their mouths” with nice words on human rights but that after all it is a mere façade, as they continue to aid and abet such crimes and violations where convenient.

There is a Latin saying whose power and meaning has always struck me. It expresses the universal principle of a vision, a feeling, an idea. The Truth. “Veritas Omnia Vincit”, truth conquers everything. And Giulio represents the Truth, for his death has shined a light on the lies, the falsehood, the cruelty and the wickedness of a global system that brings together democracies and dictatorships, thus rendering them accomplices. It does not matter that the official version will never admit the existence of any deal, agreement or negotiation between Italy and Egypt in exchange for silence on the death of Giulio. For the conspicuous silence on the part of Italian government speaks louder than any official statement.

And hence, Veritas Omnia Vincit: we will know when a state betrays its own citizens, its own values and future for its own gain;

Veritas Omnia Vincit, when public outcry spreads across the world after Giulio’s death, against al-Sīsī’s authoritarian rule, thus uniting men and women who, just like Giulio’s family, have lost their loved ones.

And again, Veritas Omnia Vincit, when the mask of this self-proclaimed democracy is removed revealing the true face of power.

I recently visited a Banksy exhibition at the Moco museum in Amsterdam. I was taken aback by how the author emphasised the existence of a thread that connects sorrow to hope and love. In suffering and grief people can gather and unite, taking solace from the shared experience of finding justice, truth or stillness. Such feelings bring them hope. And being able to connect and to hope means being able to love. This is what is happening in Egypt, Italy and elsewhere in the world at the moment. The sorrow caused by the circumstances of Giulio’s death has spread across the globe, uniting people in hope for justice, for “truth” and for a better world.

“Only in the darkness can you see the stars”, (Martin Luther King Jr).

Giulio is your son, your brother, your cousin; Giulio is your colleague, your neighbour, your friend; Giulio is a vision, a feeling, an idea.

Giulio is hope, love and truth, and he has already won.

Veritas Omnia Vincit.

Ciao Giulio

#veritàpergiulioregeni

The Next Century Foundation at the United Nations – Intervention on Discrimination and Intolerance against Women

The Next Century Foundation took part in the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. During the General Debate on Item 9 “Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance” the NCF delivered an oral intervention on the issue of gender discrimination in the Arab States urging them to take the necessary steps in order to improve women’s conditions, following the recent example of Bahrain.

FGM: Why have we not eradicated it yet?

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) causes severe bleeding and health issues including cysts, infections, infertility as well as complications in childbirth. It affects at least 200 million girls and women alive today. Despite this, very few charities, Non-Government Organisations or activist groups focus on this as one of the most serious issues the globe currently faces. FGM could be eradicated within one generation yet the current response to FGM by government and the media is one of denial and inaction. Why is this?

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The UN defines FGM as all procedures that involve altering or injuring the female genitalia for non-medical reasons and this is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is a global problem, not just an issue facing central African countries, and should be tackled as such. The UN have been ignoring the prevalence of FGM globally most particularly in parts of the Middle East and Asia. Indian activist, Masooma Ranalvi, recently urged governments and donor countries to help fund research and data collection in Asia at the 2017 ‘Ban FGM’ conference in Rome. This would allow a much better picture of the seriousness of FGM across the globe and would help to spotlight which countries and cultures need the most attention.

It is not just a lack of funding and research which undermines attempts to eradicate FGM. Many cases of FGM go unreported but cases which are reported tend to have very lenient prison sentences. This sends the wrong signal to those who continue to practise FGM. In January 2017, four people were prosecuted for FGM after 17-year-old Mayar Mohamed Moussa died from undergoing a procedure in Egypt. Mayar’s mother and doctor were given a fine of £1000 (EYP) and a suspended sentence of only one year. Lawyer Reda Eldanbouki, who was representing Mayar, expressed shock at the sentences saying “it is unfair and unjust and will be ineffective as it sends the wrong signal”.

A serious side effect has occurred because of the pressure that is starting to be put on communities that perform FGM in Africa. There are a greater number of reports suggesting FGM is being performed on much younger girls and in the dead of night in order for people to avoid the consequences of the law. This ‘under the radar’ approach makes it more complicated for authorities to effectively deal with the problem. The UN and human rights groups need to come together to stop these inhumane procedures by educating people on the dangers of procedures being done incorrectly or in unsanitary conditions.

We have an obligation as compassionate humans to eradicate FGM and help to rebuild the lives of the millions of women and girls it has already affected.

Uncomfortable trio: West, Dictators and Terrorism

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“People talk about the Middle East as if there were only two options: dictatorship or terrorism. However, this is a false dichotomy, both are terrorist groups”.

(Dr Maha Azzam)

This concluding remark by Dr Azzam last night at “Al Qaeda and Beyond: where do Arab dictatorships fit” is a powerful key to interpreting developments in the Middle East. Experts on Yemen, Syria, Egypt and Iraq analysed the relationship between dictators and terrorism, posing the question “why is the West so obsessed with dictatorships?”

In a post Arab Spring world, voices from both Europe and the USA have been advocating a return to dictatorial government in the Middle East. Distant spectators observed democratic revolutions turning into violent uprisings, peaceful protests becoming armed resistance groups and once quiet areas becoming terrorist controlled regions. The focus quickly shifted back home, with many voices denouncing ISIS attacks and asking how all of this could have happened. It is this fear and shock that has lead many to advocate increased support for Assad and Saleh, questioning the possibility of a democratic future in the region.

The history of support for dictatorships by the West is a story as long as colonialism. Even at the time of the Pahlavi dynasty in Persia, Western powers strongly supported dictators throughout the Middle East. A single individual was easier to control than a democratically elected government and his ethnicity could easily be exploited to maintain the divide and rule strategy adopted in colonial times.

It is clear that the West has benefitted from their relationship with dictators since the end of formal colonialism. From the trade deals between Italy and Libya to the military support given to Mubarak by the US, dictators in the region have been strong partners and supporters of Western interests in the area. On the opposite side of the spectrum, whenever an unfriendly government took power, Western democracies resorted to terrorist groups to destabilize the country and re-obtain their control. A classic example was the Taliban in Afghanistan, armed and supported by the US in its quest for a pipeline from Central Asia.

We should not disregard however the use dictators themselves made of terrorist groups. As illustrated by Basher Al Assad releasing jihadist prisoners in the wake of the Syrian revolution, terrorist groups have been widely used by local powers to portray themselves as “the lesser of two evils”. More recently, Sisi has used the threat of ISIS to curb peaceful civil society groups and to justify the brutal actions of Egypt’s army in Sinai. This creates a vicious cycle in which opponents of the government, deprived of their freedom of speech and assembly, resort to armed revolts, justifying increased violence from the government.

Nowadays there are two terrorist movements in the Middle East: state terrorism and religious terrorism. Depending on the time and circumstance, the West has simply opted for one or the other, perpetrating breaches of human rights and the lack of democracy in the region.

By Martina Villa