Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi has been elected chairman of the African Union during the continental body’s recent summit in Ethiopia. African Union chairmanship is given to a leader of a country every year through elections. Even though they do not have great authority, being elected as term chairman of the AU has a symbolic value and by all means the character and record of President El-Sisi after being in office for over five years in one which should not be rewarded with a continental mandate.
El-Sisi effectively took power in a coup d’ etat July 2013 and became President in June 2014. His flagrant disregard for human rights has led the country into its worst rights and political crisis in a decade. Rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, have documented a host of serious abuses by the police and National Security Agency (NSA), the leading internal security force under the Interior Ministry, including routine and widespread torture of detainees.
The rise of el-Sisi to power in Egypt can be directly linked to neocolonialism. The people of Egypt voted for someone who was not favorable to the USA, UK, and France. Instead, at their instigation, the Army took over and ushered in General el-Sisi through a sham election that meant nothing to the Egyptian people and the world. El-Sisi’s ascension as head of Egypt was a colonial construct supported by the USA and Zionist Israel. Saudi Arabia has been the main financier of the El-Sisi project.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s human rights record disqualifies him from leading the continental body or the African Union: Disappearances, Torture, Police Impunity. Since El-Sisi took power in 2013, the authorities have reconstituted and expanded the repressive instruments that defined the pre-2011 uprising era. Enforced disappearances, mistreatment in prisons, widespread torture, and probable extrajudicial killings notably increased after March 2015, when El-Sisi appointed Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar.
Human Rights Watch has documented the systematic use of torture by the Egyptian Police and National Security officers to force detainees to confess or divulge information under duress. Only a handful of the hundreds of torture cases reported since 2013 have resulted in prosecutions, and a few of those ended with convictions.
No single official or member of the security forces was investigated or prosecuted nearly five years after the mass killings of the largely peaceful protesters in the Rab’a Square in Cairo, where supporters of former President Mohammed Mursi gathered. At least 817 protesters were killed in one day, in an act of brutality described as a crime against humanity.
Under el-Sisi’s government, the number of peaceful dissidents has grown to the tens of thousands. At least 20 journalists are currently in detention. The abusive atmosphere during El-Sisi’s presidency has been coupled with special concerns for the rights of minorities. Coptic Christians, an estimated 10 percent of the Egyptian population and historically a target of widespread legal and social discrimination, have been the victims of increasing sectarian attacks since El-Sisi rose to power. In several cases, Human Rights Watch has documented that Interior Ministry officials and prosecutors did not properly investigate or bring charges for these attacks.
Concerning the Saharawi issue, now that President El-Sisi has taken over the reigns of power at least symbolically at the AU, Africa awaits to see what will become of this decades old occupation of Western Sahara by Morocco. Morocco remains the only occupying power in Africa. According to Noam Chomsky, the Arab Spring began in October 2010 when the people of Western Sahara revolted against their Moroccan occupiers. This opinion has been echoed by many North African political analysts. One can only wait and see what El-Sisi would make of that after having crushed his own revolt at a home.
El-Sisi’s lust for power as well as his abusive and autocratic policies should not become “the new norm” in Africa. His AU chairmanship is a mockery of democracy and a clear manifestation of what the continental body has become: a banquet of disengaged leaders who gather annually to drink away their failures at home. The African Union (AU) should not allow these two facets (namely, the ascension of El-Sisi to its helm and admitting an occupying force Morocco to its ranks) to go unchallenged. Otherwise, they will be accused of complicity.
Dr Mustafa Bothwell Mheta has a PhD in Semitic Languages and Cultures from the University of Johannesburg, Department of Religion Studies. He is also a Researcher at the Media Review Network.