Almost a decade ago, Egyptian pundits repeatedly warned the government of the likely outbreak of bread riots. However, we were all taken by surprise during the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution when Egyptians demanded dignity along with bread, freedom, and justice. Apparently, leading a dignified life is a fundamental demand for Egyptians — who are probably not aware of their daily humiliation of one another. Minimal awareness of human rights and responsibilities, on the part of both ruling authorities and citizens, is our true dilemma.
Many Egyptians believe that harsh punishment is legitimate under certain circumstances, which are obviously determined on an individual basis; they are happy to abuse human rights if they know that they will get away with it. Meanwhile, the state believes that people suspected of crime, violence and terrorism deserve to be the victims of repressive policies, including torture. The ruling authorities’ implicit opinion is that a nation with a population in excess of one hundred million, of which a large segment is illiterate and poor, is left with only one option — meting out rough treatment.
Unfortunately, the issue has become a game played by the Egyptian government and a number of international human rights organizations, which often accuse Egypt of adopting a comprehensive policy of violating the rights of citizens, warning us that further repression will lead to increased violence. In return, the Egyptian government consistently refutes these allegations, claiming that instances of abuse are rare exceptions to the prevalent norm of upholding human rights, and declaring these organizations to be ignorant of actual conditions on the ground in Egypt.
As this debate takes place, we Egyptians are lost amidst intensive and violent mistreatment and a culture of abuse, wherein influential citizens manipulate marginalized ones; wealthy citizens take advantage of the less fortunate; men, at large, mistreat women; and so on. Lately, to disassociate themselves from any criminal allegations, many powerful, wealthy citizens have resorted to hiring “bodyguards,” who are often willing to engage in illegal acts for which their employers cannot be held responsible.
While the state and many of its citizens refute all human rights abuse allegations, regular Egyptians are lost amidst intensive and violent mistreatment.
The state’s argument, that the national stability of our large population necessitates draconian methods of government (occasionally entailing repressive measures), is easily countered by arguing that enforcing the rule of law will create the needed stability. The state’s philosophy of broadening the definition of human rights by claiming that it entails more than individual legal rights — such as the right to education, health and other state services — simply signals to lawbreakers that they may persist in their offences. Moreover, this philosophy overlooks the fact that the state is the entity responsible for addressing all issues equally and comprehensively.
The Egyptian state believes that the issue of human rights is politicized. Unfortunately, I tend to agree that a few nations make use of this flaw — only when needed — to exert pressure on Egypt. However, we should not bother with defending Egypt’s human rights status on issues that conflict with our religious beliefs and moral values. Acknowledging that we have shortcomings in the area of human rights, as in most other areas, is the first step to addressing the problem. To realize true progress in this controversial matter, we must educate Egyptians, inclusive of the ruling authorities, on the best methods for managing our citizens.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNosseir