Egyptian regime that sentenced me to death now the toast of London
Prime Minister David Cameron’s invitation to General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to visit Britain this week was a real shock to me. I was forced to live in exile in the UK after being handed a death sentence by the military regime that Cameron is hosting in Britain, the world’s oldest democracy that abolished the death penalty decades ago.
On 16 June, the military-appointed highest Islamic authority in Egypt ratified a death sentence against me and more than 100 other defendants, including former president Mohamed Morsi, members of his administration and public figures. I had worked in Morsi's presidency as an aide in his liaison team with international media.
Dubbed “the Grand Espionage” case, the ludicrous charges against me and other defendants include allegations of espionage with a range of foreign entities with seemingly conflicting interests, including Britain and the US, along with Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International dismissed the trial as a charade, deeply flawed, politically motivated and lacking any evidence. The EU, US and UK have all condemned the verdicts.
While I’m encouraged by the UK and other Western governments condemning the verdicts, I’m shocked by the fact that this appears to mean nothing in practice, as Downing Street rolls out the red carpet for Sisi and his henchmen.
I received the news of my death sentence while I was studying for a graduate degree in Britain. However, in Egypt, many of my friends and former co-workers are facing the threat of being executed for crimes they have not committed. Most of them are held in solitary confinement, some have already worn the red uniform designated for those on death row and are subjected to forms of psychological and physical torture that no human should endure.
At least seven people have been executed since the 3 July military coup. The regime is likely to carry out more sentences at any moment. And the situation in Egypt is more likely to deteriorate if the Sisi regime is allowed to gain international credibility and acceptance.
The human rights record of Egypt since the Sisi coup has become a thing of legends, even in comparison to the darkest and most oppressive regimes the world has ever witnessed. Official reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch make absolutely horrific reading and convey a state that has dispensed with any regard for humanity, let alone human rights.
No other regime in the world has handed down more death sentences against its political opponents over such a short period of time as the Sisi regime has done since 3 July 2013. And this is a regime famous, too, for its targeting of female activists: 200 of them are currently behind bars, hundreds more have been subject to sexual harassment as a matter of state policy and dozens have been victims of extrajudicial killings, including many of my friends and co-workers.
The British government has sent an extremely dangerous and unfortunate message to the people of Egypt: we value our economic interests way above any consideration for democracy, human rights and freedom. Britain remains the largest investor in Egypt, and maintains strong military ties with the Egyptian army.
The chief of staff of the Egyptian army, General Mahmoud Hegazi, has been hosted in London and hailed by British military officials as a partner in counter-terrorism efforts. His leading role in the bloody dispersal of a peaceful sit-in on 14 August 2013 in the aftermath of the coup may amount to crimes against humanity.
Embracing a military dictatorship does not serve British interests. History shows that repression fuels extremism. The so-called War on Terror that Sisi claims to be waging is all smoke and mirrors. You only have to read the report published by HRW which clearly highlights that it is the repressive policies of Sisi and his regime that are fanning the flames of terrorism. The UK government’s acceptance of Sisi as a partner in the War on Terror is not only deeply flawed, it is counter-productive and extremely dangerous.
Democracy is the perfect antidote to terrorism. This is why with oppressive dictators like Sisi in power and the support of Western states, terrorists will always have more and more stories to tell frustrated young Muslims in order to recruit them to their evil ideology. If we trace the timeline of the Islamic State (IS) group coming to prominence, we would find it inextricably linked to the coup in Egypt.
Cameron has referred to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad as “a recruitment sergeant for ISIS” and accused him of creating the recent immigration crisis. There is every reason to say the same about the Sisi regime in Egypt. The only difference is that Egypt has not collapsed. The world left Syria bleeding for four years until it was caught by surprise with a massive flow of refugees into Europe, fleeing death. How many years are we going to wait until millions of Egyptians flee an impending conflict to European beaches which lie so close to Egypt’s shoreline?
I can already hear the refrain, “Egypt is not Syria” and it reminds me of the words I heard on my way to Tahrir on 25 January 2011 that “Egypt is not Tunisia”. It isn’t, but the international community seems intent on not learning any lessons from the past.
- Sondos Asem is a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the University of Oxford. She previously served as a foreign press coordinator at the Egyptian Presidency.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye
Photo: Protesters hold a giant Egyptian flag as tens of thousands gathered for a demonstration at Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011 (AFP)