Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the January 25 uprising, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a media campaign dubbed “Egypt Better Today,” which will reportedly highlight the 25 “most important accomplishments” of the Egyptian state since 2011.
Using the hashtag #EgyptBetterToday, the Foreign Ministry says it will issue five daily statements in both Arabic and English on social media. According to the ministry’s Facebook page, the five areas of success they will highlight are “political rights and the enhancement of citizen participation, the restoration of Egypt’s regional and international roles, youth empowerment, promotion of a culture of diversity and the path towards social justice and economic reform.”
On Wednesday, the first day of this five-day campaign, the ministry began with “ensuring political rights and participation” for citizens, declaring that “during the past five years, Egypt has seen unprecedented participation in the political sphere by the Egyptian public, after they reclaimed their right to shape their own destiny in the wake of the revolution of January 25th.”
Success in this area, according to the ministry, includes the election of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, passing the 2014 Constitution, the election of a House of Representatives, bestowing this parliament with the right to impeach the president, and allowing Egyptian expatriates to exercise their right to vote.
While the Foreign Ministry claims Egypt’s “constitution contains ground-breaking provisions to secure the rights of the Egyptian people,” numerous rights organizations have harshly criticized the Egyptian state for its crackdown on citizens’ rights and freedoms since the military-backed ouster of former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, has stated that 2014 and 2015 witnessed a marked downturn in the rights and freedoms of Egyptians under Sisi’s presidency. In June 2015, HRW issued a report entitled Egypt: Year of Abuses Under al-Sisi, in which it stated that Egypt’s “president gets western support while erasing human rights gains.”
Western governments “should stop overlooking Egyptian government abuses, including a lack of accountability for many killings of protesters by security forces, mass detentions, military trials of civilians, hundreds of death sentences, and the forced eviction of thousands of families in the Sinai Peninsula,” the rights watchdog added.
The ministry’s post goes on to detail the rights enshrined in the Constitution that the Egyptian state has purportedly attempted to uphold, including the banning of torture, slavery and all forms of human trafficking, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of assembly, along with freedom of scientific research and the rights of “artists, writers and filmmakers to create.”
Contrary to these claims, however, Amnesty International has issued a report citing “the continued dramatic deterioration in human rights following the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.”
“The government severely restricted freedoms of expression, association and assembly. Thousands were arrested and detained as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent, with some detainees subjected to forced disappearance,” Amnesty’s report added.
Amnesty also reported that, in recent years, “torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained routine and was committed with impunity. Hundreds were sentenced to prison terms or to death after grossly unfair trials. Security forces used excessive force against protesters and committed unlawful killings with impunity.”
In its report, HRW added that Sisi’s administration had governed by decree in the absence of an elected parliament, which only convened for its first session in January 2016. This is said to “have provided near total impunity for security force abuses” while issuing “a raft of laws that severely curtailed civil and political rights, effectively erasing the human rights gains of the 2011 uprising that ousted the longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak.”
As for the Foreign Ministry’s claim of increased political participation, there appears to be a return to the Mubarak-era trend of non-participation in elections. While a higher number of voters participated in elections and referendums from 2011 to 2013, elections conducted since have witnessed a notable decrease in turnout.
The ministry claims Sisi won the 2014 presidential elections by a 96.9 percent landslide and 47.5 percent voter turnout, competing only against Egyptian Popular Current candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi. However, 2012 witnessed a presidential election in which 13 candidates competed, with a reported voter turnout (combining both rounds of this election) of nearly 52 percent. The voter turnout rate in the 2011-12 parliamentary elections amounted to nearly 54 percent, in comparison to the 29 percent turnout rate in the 2015 parliamentary elections.
Nonetheless, Sisi’s regime maintains a great deal of popular support amongst millions of Egyptians. Using the hashtag #EgyptBetterToday, one supporter Tweeted: “As long as the army, police, and people are united, Egypt will be better,” while another declared that “Egypt is better today with its leader, with the determination and willpower of its populace.”
Using the same hashtag, a critic of the current administration Tweeted: “The thousands killed by Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood, and — most of all — Sisi would disagree with that Egypt is Better Today.” Another opponent of the regime asked how Egypt is better today when thousands of political opponents languish in prisons, while journalists are also imprisoned for simply performing their jobs.
In its annual report for the year 2015, the Committee to Protect Journalists claimed that Egypt is the world’s second worst jailer of journalists (following closely after China), citing its declining record of press freedoms under Sisi.