Macron urged to press ally El-Sisi on rights in Paris visit

Macron urged to press ally El-Sisi on rights in Paris visit
Egypt and France have enjoyed an increasingly close relationship under the secular rule of former army general El-Sisi. (File/AFP)
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Updated 05 December 2020

Macron urged to press ally El-Sisi on rights in Paris visit

Macron urged to press ally El-Sisi on rights in Paris visit
  • El-Sisi will dine with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday evening before holding talks with Macron
  • France’s close relationship with Egypt at a time when Cairo stands accused of serial human rights violations has concerned activists

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron hosts Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah El-Sisi from Sunday for a three-day state visit with France facing calls from activists that Egypt should not be “indulged” despite the close alliance between Cairo and Paris.
Egypt and France have enjoyed an increasingly close relationship under the secular rule of former army general El-Sisi, with common interests in the Middle East and a shared suspicion of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
El-Sisi will dine with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Sunday evening before holding talks with Macron at the Elysee on Monday. Meetings with other political leaders are due to stretch into Tuesday.
France’s close relationship with Egypt at a time when Cairo stands accused of serial human rights violations has concerned activists, who want Macron to make the issue central to the discussions.
“French diplomacy has, at the highest levels, long indulged President El-Sisi’s brutal repression of any form of dissent,” a dozen human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said in a joint statement ahead of his visit.
“It is now or never for President Macron to stand up for his self-declared commitment to promote human rights in Egypt.”
The statement said that as well as being Egypt’s main arms supplier by selling warships and fighter jets, the French government has also allowed French companies to provide Cairo with surveillance and crowd control tools.
“We are amazed that France is rolling out the red carpet for a dictator when there are more than 60,000 prisoners of conscience today in Egypt,” Antoine Madelin, international advocacy director of the FIDH, told AFP.
El-Sisi came to power in 2014 in the wake of the overthrow in 2013 of the president Muhammad Mursi by the military which he then led.
Those caught in the crackdown include Islamist supporters of the ousted Mursi, but also leftists and liberals.
Concern over El-Sisi’s visit to Paris was amplified when three Egyptian activists were arrested last month following a meeting with foreign ambassadors.
However, following an international campaign backed by celebrities such as Scarlett Johansson, all three campaigners from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights have been freed.
Rights NGOs are set to hold a protest outside the French parliament on Tuesday denouncing the “strategic partnership” between France and Egypt.
A French presidential official, who asked not to be named, described the release of the trio as a “positive signal” and emphasised that rights issues would be brought up by Macron.
Macron had raised human rights concerns during a visit to Cairo in January 2018, saying “respect for individual freedoms, dignity of everyone and the rule of law.”
The French leader had been criticized by rights groups after saying in October 2017 during a visit by El-Sisi to Paris that he would not “lecture” Egypt on liberties.
Those jailed in Egypt include Palestinian-Egyptian activist Ramy Shaath, husband of French national Celine Lebrun, and held since July 2019 on accusations of acting against the state.
“His case is completely empty and the accusations are devoid of any proof,” Lebrun told AFP, saying she had only been able to speak to her husband twice by phone.

Both Macron and El-Sisi are wary of the regional ambitions of Turkey under Erdogan which has intervened militarily in the conflicts in Libya and Syria and sought to bolster the Turkish footprint in Africa.
The Muslim Brotherhood-aligned Mursi was a close ally of Erdogan and the Turkish president has repeatedly expressed dismay over his ousting.
Tensions between Ankara and Paris grew further in the run-up to the visit with Erdogan saying that France should “get rid of” Macron “as soon as possible.”
France’s priority is the reinforcement of the “strategic partnership” with the most populous country in the Arab world which is considered a center of “stability” in a volatile region, said the French official.


Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle
Updated 16 January 2021

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

Afghan refugee helping war widows escape poverty cycle

KABUL: When Hanan Habibzai became a refugee in 2008, he left Afghanistan with a sense of responsibility toward all those left behind, especially widows and orphaned children.
As he made the UK his new home and managed to establish himself, Habibzai founded Helping Orphans in 2016, a charity that gives vocational training and literacy courses to women and children.
Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.
“What will happen to these children when they grow up? Their parents are taken away and they are left alone in poverty and hardship, and they have never been in school,” Habibzai told Arab News.
“What can we expect from these children when they grow and take control of their communities except problems? So, I established this charity to help vulnerable children and orphans join school. These are the exact reasons as to why I established Helping Orphans.”
As his family was displaced by the Afghan-Soviet war of the 1980s, Habibzai knows from his own experience what hunger and poverty mean. The situation in the country has become even worse now, he said, after the US-led invasion to oust the Taliban in 2001.
Before he left Afghanistan, Habibzai worked as a journalist, traveling across the country’s provinces, witnessing hopelessness and despair.
“Within the Afghan poverty-stricken and war-torn nation, I see displaced families, a refugee going through many difficulties, a 10-year-old orphan becoming responsible for feeding his family, or a woman who has lost her husband and now has to look after her children while she has nothing,” he said.

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Helping Orphans estimates that there are as many as 3.5 million widows and 2.6 million orphans in Afghanistan today. Often uneducated, the women face few options if their husbands die, while children end up working out of necessity and never receive an education.

“Today I live in the UK. I have everything here. My family and I have three full meals a day. But back in Afghanistan, there are many people who do not even have a single meal a day and are facing severe poverty and hardship.”
The latest survey by the UN indicates that 18 million people in Afghanistan — half of the country’s population — are in need of emergency aid.
In the beginning, through donations from individuals, Helping Orphans provided direct relief in the form of food and cash, but in June last year Habibzai realized that more sustainable efforts were needed.
In Kabul, the charity now enrolls children in school while their mothers take part in three-month courses to become tailors, allowing them to be self-reliant. About 20 women have completed the first training courses. One of them is Shamila, who lost her husband, a commando soldier, and was left alone with a young son about two years ago.
“The world had come to an end for me with the death of his father when my child wept,” she told Arab News.
“I joined the workshop of the charity, learned tailoring and it has been a big change both mentally and financially,” she added. “I am a tailor at home now. I earn money this way and have been able to stand on my feet.”
The charity is now planning to open more courses and teach other professions, like hairdressing, to help women provide for themselves.
“We want the aid to have a long-term impact on the lives of people, so beneficiaries can learn a profession,” said Helping Orphans Director Abdul Fatah Tayeb.
“We want them to learn how to fish rather than giving them a fish. The fundamental goal is to make people self-sufficient.”