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The Other Side: Fish, milk… human rights

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We are talking about an important human rights council whose members may be figures with political and religious influence, but this does not mean that they are qualified to be members of such an institution

By Gamal Eid

When forming a government, prime ministers or presidents tend to choose political figures who are able to fully carry out and apply their future plans and political visions. Therefore, it is not necessary that a policeman, for example, be at the head of an interior ministry; the position can equally be assigned to a doctor, writer or judge.

This matter is not restricted to the democratic world, as Egypt once had interior ministers who had nothing to do with the police or the army, like writer and thinker Ahmed Lotfy El-Sayyed, or judge Tawfiq Nasseim and others who took over the portfolio of the interior ministry as a political position in the past.

Several Arab countries have also followed this path, like Lebanon, where doctor and intellectual Ahmed Fetfet was appointed interior minister in 2006, as well as lawyer Biar Jameel who moved among ministries including interior, finance, health and tourism, but did not take a judicial position, despite his legal background.

The same principle applies to all state institutions and its bodies like the president’s advisors, governors, district chiefs or bodies’ heads. However, it does not apply to certain specialised national councils, like the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) for one.

Traditionally, two criteria should be met in a candidate who takes a position in a human rights institution, especially one with the leverage and position of the NCHR. These criteria are not unique to Egypt, but to all countries with national councils established under recommendations of the 1993 World Conference on Human rights in Vienna.

The two criteria are: firstly, the members of these councils should be rights activist whose careers record are free of any human rights violations; secondly, members should not be leading officials in a political party or group so that they may maintain their neutrality. Aside from these criteria members might come from any background. That means members can withdraw, freeze or cancel membership in any political party or group throughout their tenure.

Unfortunately, those responsible for forming the NCHR in Egypt missed these two requirements. Maybe they were not fully acquainted with these conditions, which in itself raises more questions.

Why were such inexperienced people appointed in this field? To be specific, let’s count such disqualified people. In terms of leading membership with questionable neutrality, the deputy president of the council Abdul Ghafar Shokr himself is a leading official and a founder of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party. Furthermore, Dr Mohamed Ghazlan is a member of Muslim BrotherhoodGuidance Office” and one of its spokespersons.

As for practices attributed to right activists who became members of the most powerful and wealthiest human rights institution in Egpyt (although not necessarily the most credible), we have veteran leftist lawyer Mohamed Al-Damatty who has brought up to 15 criminal lawsuits against journalists over their writings, as well as official lawyer of the Muslim Brotherhood Abdul Moneim Abdul Maksoud, who was recently sued by a number of journalists and media figures.

Shall we talk about the Salafist preacher Dr Safwat Hegazi and his attacks on revolutionary youths? No, I think the matter hardly needs clarification or explanation.

So in conclusion, we are talking about an important human rights council whose members may be figures with political and religious influence, but this does not mean that they are qualified to be members of such an institution.

I say this, we do not want the concept of “fish, milk, tamarind” (three unrelated things and an Egyptian expression meaning chaos and a lack of harmony) to become common behaviour in Egypt.


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