Nothing reflects the disastrous situation in Egypt now better than the plight of the country’s human rights organisations, over which the government is again trying to exert full control through obligatory government registration. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the human rights community for enabling the #Jan25 revolution. If the revolution was about dignity, that understanding and guarantee of dignity has always depended on the implementation of a universal and inclusive human rights agenda.
Egypt’s human rights community is one of the most important in the Arab world, and along with Palestine and Tunisia, among the region’s first. As human rights pioneer Fateh Azzam explained to me, if Palestinians were isolated by the Israeli occupation and Tunisians severely limited by the “domestic occupation” of Ben Ali’s regime, Egyptian human rights groups had the possibility and ability to take the lead in promoting a regional movement for human rights as well as making human rights discourses an important part of the domestic political vocabulary.
Indeed, beginning in the 1980s, Egyptian human rights organisations were the unsung heroes of the struggle for democracy and greater rights. Using a law-based approach that could rise above narrowly ideological and/or partisan politics, they defended the rights of most marginalised groups – fellahin and workers, women and Islamists, communists and Nasserists, homosexuals and children. The human rights community did more than most actors to pry open the spaces out of which a vibrant civil society emerged in the 1990s, a fraught time in which the Mubarak government was simultaneously tackling a violent terrorist insurgency, imposing a neoliberal economic programme, and dealing with the collapse of what remained of the Nasser-era authoritarian bargain.
These early activists set the stage for the generation that led the protests in Tahrir Square, but today many watch their own children suffer similar injustices as they did. Only the regime is different.
Pray for those who seek justice for the people of this nation, and for Christians to join with this cry for justice and righteousness.