In a move that will likely bring about the exact opposite of its intended effect, Egyptian authorities under president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi refused to allow Human Rights Watch staff members to enter the country early Monday morning. This is the first time Egypt has denied entry to employees of the international non-governmental organization, including during the repressive regime of former president Hosni Mubarak.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) executive director Kenneth Roth and Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson arrived at the Cairo airport on Sunday, with the intent of briefing diplomats and journalists on a 188-page HRW report on last summer's mass killings that followed the military ouster of Egypt’s first elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamist social and political organization.
After being detained for 12 hours, Roth and Whitson were deported for "security reasons."
"It appears the Egyptian government has no appetite to face up to the reality of these abuses, let alone hold those responsible to account."
—Kenneth Roth, Human Rights Watch
The report, “All According to Plan: The Rab‘a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” documents how Egyptian police and army methodically opened fire with live ammunition on crowds of demonstrators opposed to Morsi's expulsion at six demonstrations in July and August 2013, killing at least 1,150 people — "and how no one has been held to account one year later," according to an HRW release.
“We came to Egypt to release a serious report on a serious subject that deserves serious attention from the Egyptian government,” Roth said in a statement. “Instead of denying the messenger entry to Egypt, the Egyptian authorities should seriously consider our conclusions and recommendations and respond with constructive action.”
We had already shared our report on last year’s mass unlawful killings in Cairo with senior Egyptian officials and were hoping to have meetings with them to discuss our findings and recommendations. However, it appears the Egyptian government has no appetite to face up to the reality of these abuses, let alone hold those responsible to account.
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El-Sisi, who seized power upon Morsi's departure and began a four-year term as president in June, vowed during his campaign that the Muslim Brotherhood would cease to exist under his rule. An Egyptian court on Saturday dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Brotherhood, which has itself been banned since September. Under el-Sisi, Egypt has also targeted secular and liberal activists prominent in the 2011 uprising that brought down Mubarak's 30-year reign.
This June, a joint report from HRW and Amnesty International declared Egypt was "in the midst of a human rights crisis as dire as in any period in the country’s modern history."
On Twitter, Egyptian American human rights activist Sherif Mansour said that Egypt's decision to deny entry to the HRW workers was an "ominous sign for Egyptian & international NGOs."
But Whitson saw the bright side of the entire incident:
Journalist Ian Birrell, former deputy editor of the Independent, agreed:
By banning @HRW from Egypt, Sisi has ensured far more publicity for what is going to be a very damning report into his regime's brutality— Ian Birrell (@ianbirrell) August 11, 2014