EGYPT: Rights’ advocates accuse military of orchestrating smear campaign
The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak was expected to make life easier for human rights groups and civil organizations, but the groups say the country's new ruling military council is harshly crushing dissent and waging a systematic effort to defame them in the eyes of the Egyptian public.
On Monday, 36 rights organizations sent a joint complaint to the U.N’s Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights about a “smear campaign” organized by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and its appointed interim-government.
“The undersigned organizations wish to whole-heartedly condemn authorities’ manipulation of the media to publicize investigations into associations accused of receiving U.S funding without identifying the groups in question,” the organizations said in a statement.
Last month, SCAF member Major Gen. Hassan el Roweini said the April 6th Youth and Kefaya movements –- oppressed during Mubarak’s reign -– were receiving funds from foreign countries to serve an outside hidden agenda. His assertion, playing into widespread suspicions of foreign interference, was followed by a state security investigation into the funding of unnamed civil society organizations.
Egyptian regulations prohibit any civil society association of receiving foreign funds without the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s approval.
When asked for a response to the organizations’ complaint, SCAF member Gen. Mamdouh Shahin told Babylon & Beyond it is “not SCAF's responsibility to reply to these allegations”.
But in an apparent bid to stem criticism of its tactics, the military this week acquitted and released 40 activists detained by military courts, state newspaper Al Ahram reported.
The conflict symbolizes the main impediments facing Egyptians’ aspiration for democracy. Advocates like Ahmed Ragheb of the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre believe that the active presence of rights associations is needed to monitor SCAF until Egypt holds presidential and parliamentary elections.
“It’s either we turn a blind eye to any violations carried out (by SCAF) and become another autocratic regime, or maintain our watchdog status as the only way for reaching democracy,” he says.
The Egyptian army was untouchable during Mubarak’s reign. No one dared to publish anything about the military.
On April 11, blogger Mikael Nabil was sentenced to three years in jail by a military court after criticizing the army in one of his blogs.
Bahey Eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies, said SCAF is cracking down on rights organizations because of their role in “exposing a number of violations carried out by military police like the use of force in dispersing sit-ins and subjecting female protesters to virginity tests, as well as the trying of thousands of civilians in front of military courts”.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: A July protest demanding an end to military-court trials for civilians. Credit: Associated Press