Latest UN report on Egypt’s imprisonment and death in detention of the country’s first democratically elected president, is a damning indictment of the military dictatorship in power. Though the stinging report may be dismissed by the coup leader Gen Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who ousted and jailed Mohamed Morsi, it is nevertheless a welcome respite for thousands of detainees and Egypt’s pro-democracy movement.
Not only do the panel of independent UN experts throw the spotlight on the inhumane detention conditions which led to Morsi’s death, they also castigate the Sisi regime’s lack of accountability. While the report does its rounds through various corridors of power, it certainly will cast a long shadow over the African Union’s utter failure to be faithful to its anti-coup and human rights policies.
Ironically and much to its shame, the AU, which ought to represent and defend democratic values, is headed by Sisi. The army chief now donning cosmetic “changes” as president of Egypt and the African Union, is directly implicated in the death in detention of Morsi and countless more.
Details of the UN’s findings have been disclosed by various media outlets including the “Middle East Eye”. They reveal that the high-powered panel of UN experts – including Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was held under “brutal” conditions.
“Dr. Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detention in the Tora prison complex,” the experts wrote. “Dr. Morsi’s death after enduring those conditions could amount to a state-sanctioned arbitrary killing.”
Their outline of the horrendous conditions is alarming. It confirms the fears and concerns of human rights groups, media and family members of detainees. “Dr. Morsi was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day,” the experts wrote. “He was not allowed to see other prisoners, even during the one hour a day when he was permitted to exercise. He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only one or two blankets for protection. He was not allowed access to books, journals, writing materials or a radio.”
“Dr. Morsi was denied life-saving and ongoing care for his diabetes and high blood pressure. He progressively lost the vision in his left eye, had recurrent diabetic comas and fainted repeatedly. From this, he suffered significant tooth decay and gum infections,” they added.
“The authorities were warned repeatedly that Dr. Morsi’s prison conditions would gradually undermine his health to the point of killing him. There is no evidence they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable,” the experts said. “Middle East Eye” report confirms that UN experts also warned Sisi about the fate of thousands more prisoners in Egypt who were enduring similar conditions, and their ‘health and lives’ may also be at severe risk.
“We have received credible evidence from various sources that thousands more detainees across Egypt may be suffering gross violations of their human rights, many of whom may be at high risk of death,” the statement said. “This appears to be a consistent, intentional practice by the current Government of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to silence dissenters.”
Among the demands listed by the UN panel of experts are an end to state-sponsored practices that violate “the right to life, the right not to be subjected to arbitrary detention, the right not to be subjected to torture or ill-treatment, the right to due process and a fair trial, and adequate medical care”.
Given that the Sisi regime is viewed as an American asset, is allied to Israel’s colonial project and is linked to Saudi Arabia’s geo-political ambitions, the prospect of it adhering to any of the UN’s demands are slim. This is borne out by the fact that Morsi’s ouster via a bloody military coup was engineered and funded by the same three rogue regimes. And concurrently, while pro-democracy activists in Egypt were mowed down during the Ra’baa massacres, the international community stood by in silence.
The imposition of Sisi as Egypt’s modern-day Pharaoh has been a nightmare not only for human rights activists, journalists, civil society movements and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood; but also for Palestinians under siege in Occupied Gaza. While ostensibly playing a mediating role, Sisi’s actions on the ground especially his inhumane restrictive policy of maintaining long periods of closure of the Rafah border, have fulfilled Israeli expectations – not Palestinian aspirations.
Now that the UN panel has spoken, it is left to be seen whether the African Union and its constituent members, especially South Africa, will endorse and support its list of just demands. Thousands of political detainees and tortured victims of Sisi’s brutal reign are waiting for a just end to their painful suffering on cold concrete floors in solitary confinement without medical care.
Iqbal Jassat is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network based in Johannesburg, South Africa.