With brazen hypocrisy, Western leaders applauded the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt 10 years ago.
Powerful politicians then declaring solidarity with demonstrators in Cairo had actually shored up Mubarak’s dictatorship until his position started to look untenable.
The double standards of February 2011 remain on display a decade later.
Abdulfattah al-Sisi, the current boss in Egypt, has no time for the democratic principles theoretically regarded as sacrosanct by the European Union.
Nonetheless, the EU wants to do plenty of business with him.
Since coming to power in a very bloody 2013 coup, al-Sisi has ruthlessly crushed dissent.
One method he uses is to label political activists as “terrorists.”
Among those affected is Ramy Shaath, a Palestinian who has been imprisoned in Egypt for the past 18 months.
Ramy was placed on a list of “terrorists” during 2020. He has contested the blacklisting and a Cairo court is scheduled to hear his appeal on 10 February.
“Abusive and arbitrary”
The blacklisting was “an abusive and arbitrary decision taken in Ramy’s absence and that of his lawyers and without any evidence being produced to justify that decision,” his wife Céline Lebrun Shaath – a French citizen – stated by email.
“Today – a few days before the appeal hearing – we still do not know all the accusations brought against my husband,” she added, explaining that the appeals court has not allowed Ramy’s lawyers to see key documents related to the case.
“Depriving us of that right is a new and flagrant violation of Ramy’s basic right to prepare a defense and to a fair trial.”
A son of Nabil Shaath – a prominent figure in the Palestine Liberation Organization – Ramy has long been a campaigner for democracy in Egypt.
Ramy’s arrest came shortly after he criticized Egypt’s participation in the 2019 Bahrain conference.
Arranged by Jared Kushner, the son-in-law and adviser to then US President Donald Trump, that gathering was part of efforts to promote “normalization” between Israel and Arab countries.
Ramy has also coordinated BDS Egypt, a group promoting the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Although Egypt signed a “peace treaty” with Israel in 1979 and has helped more recently to enforce the siege of Gaza, the Cairo authorities were not irked by Ramy’s BDS activities per se, Alain Gresh, who runs the website Orient XXI, has suggested.
Yet when Ramy spoke out against Egyptian foreign policy, al-Sisi felt that a line had been crossed and that he had become an enemy, Gresh has claimed.
“Inhuman and unhygienic”
Ramy is being held in the prison known as Tora Investigations.
According to his wife Céline, he shares a 25 square meter cell with between 12 and 17 other prisoners. “They sleep on the floor – on blankets,” she stated. “The conditions are inhuman and unhygienic. What’s more this is the midst of a pandemic.”
A recent Amnesty International report documented how prisoners showing the symptoms associated with COVID-19 were not tested for that virus or isolated from others in Tora Investigations.
At least one man held in that prison died from COVID-19 just 10 days after he had been released.
Céline was deported by the Egyptian authorities to France on the same day Ramy was arrested.
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, enjoys a cozy relationship with al-Sisi. That was apparent when Macron undertook an official trip to Cairo in early 2019 – raising human rights issues in an extremely timid manner.
Al-Sisi was then welcomed to Paris during December last year. Macron reportedly asked that Ramy be freed on that occasion.
Yet the plight of prisoners was clearly not Macron’s main priority. In his public comments, he placed an emphasis on “defense” cooperation with Egypt.
Asked if France should exert greater pressure on Egypt, Ramy’s wife Céline replied that “silent diplomacy” has “largely failed.”
Egypt needs to pay a price for trampling on human rights, she argued.
“Without a real cost for the Egyptian government over the violations committed against my husband and tens of thousands of other political prisoners, I fear that they will remain in prison for a long time,” she added.
“And I fear that the situation will continue to deteriorate as it has done between Macron’s comments in Cairo in January 2019 and those of December 2020.”