El Sisi challenges Berlin reporters on Egypt's human rights record

Egyptian president insists his government's concern over human rights is genuine

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi addressing a joint news conference with German Chancellor in Berlin on Monday. EPA
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Egypt’s president on Monday challenged reporters at a news conference in Berlin to travel to his country to decide for themselves whether his government respected human rights.

“I get asked about this [human rights] every time I am at a news conference like this [in Europe]. I want to answer differently this time,” said Abdel Fattah El Sisi in response to a reporter’s question in Berlin, where he is attending the Petersberg Climate Dialogue.

“I invite you along with everyone who is interested in this matter to visit us in Egypt and we will allow him to meet everyone.

“I should expect that what you see and hear will be accurately relayed to the German people. I would rather not say anything myself because you’ll say that I am obviously biased.”

A former army general first elected president in 2014, Mr El Sisi has been asked by reporters about his government’s human rights record on numerous occasions during visits to European Union member states.

His answers have varied.

He has advocated the unfeasibility of applying European perceptions of rights to Egypt, an Arab nation of 103 million, with nearly half living in poverty or struggling with household costs.

“We are not concerned about human rights just because you ask us about them,” he told the news conference also addressed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. "We are concerned because we respect our people just as you respect your own."

Egypt’s human rights record under Mr El Sisi has come under increasing scrutiny since the announcement eight months ago that it would host the next Cop27 global climate change conference in November.

One of the questions frequently asked has been on the scope of protests that Egyptian authorities would allow outside the conference venue in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh.

However, the government has taken significant steps in the past few months to improve its image, allowing broader political participation and the release of government critics held in pre-trial detention.

An inclusive national dialogue suggested by the Egyptian leader in April began this month. It is still in the initial procedural stage but, if it lives up to the hype, it could be a turning point in Mr El Sisi’s rule.

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But while it is too early to see whether the dialogue would bring about the genuine change for which many are hoping, rights activists say the number of detainees freed so far is too small when compared to the thousands they claim to be in detention.

Mr El Sisi has made security and the economy his top priorities, with his government placing the media under its control, blocking independent online news sites, banning demonstrations and slapping travel bans on its critics.

When first announcing the dialogue in April, Mr El Sisi said such a gathering could not have been possible during his rule because of the security challenges his government faced.

He was referring to the wave of terrorist attacks that followed the 2013 removal by the military – then led by Mr El Sisi - of an Islamist president whose one-year rule proved divisive.

“Attend sessions of the national dialogue and see for yourself if Egypt is keen on freedoms or not,” President El Sisi told the Berlin news conference.

The dialogue was scheduled to resume Tuesday, but only for its 19-member board of trustees to decide on the formation of committees and decide on specific topics and a timeline for the proceedings.

Updated: June 15, 2023, 11:49 AM