Sherief Gaber says the U.S. has renewed support for the Sisi-headed government in Egypt in spite of its unprecedented crackdown on press and human rights
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
On Monday, three Al Jazeera journalists were convicted in an Egyptian court and sentenced to seven years in prison on terrorism-related charges. This took place just a day after Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Cairo to meet with the newly elected Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Kerry pledged to continue the flow of U.S. military aid to the country, which is second to only Israel in terms of how much aid it receives from the United States. The U.S. recently released $575 million in military aid, which has been frozen after the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi.
Now joining us to give us an update on the human rights situation in Egypt is our guest Sherief Gaber. He is a member of the Mosireen Independent Media Collective in Cairo and a researcher focusing on housing rights and social justice issues.
Thank you for joining us, Sherief.
SHERIEF GABER, MEMBER, MOSIREEN INDEPENDENT MEDIA COLLECTIVE: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Sherief, this sentencing has become a huge issue about press freedom in Egypt. And just to give our viewers some stats, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egypt ranks third, being the third-deadliest country for the press in 2013. But I remember my time there, and it wasn’t a cakewalk under then-president Mubarak. But do you think that what we’re seeing today is something unprecedented?
GABER: I think that what we’re seeing now is in many ways unprecedented. And the scope and scale of the crackdown are definitely much larger than anything we saw before, perhaps because over the past three years there has been an unprecedented level of resistance to the police state and its devices. And, in fact, it’s arguable that in 2011 that police state was, if only temporarily, broken. And so it’s very clear that now they’re trying to reassert themselves with as much violence as they can in order to intimidate people back into silence. So in some ways unprecedented, but in other ways a continuation of the same attempts to throw a blanket over what’s happening and prevent people from seeing what goes on.
DESVARIEUX: Sisi has the power to really pardon these journalists, and he’s come out and he’s said that he will not interfere in the judicial matters following the sentencing of those three journalists. What’s your take on that?
GABER: I mean, there’s a very dirty game being played around the supposed independence of the Egyptian judiciary, I think partly because throughout 2011 and the years subsequent, you know, for various reasons many saw them as kind of the least bad or one of the least bad institutions from the Mubarak years, which of course turns out to be not true. And so judicial independence becomes effectively code for where we’re not going to bother and we’re going to lie to your face about it.
I mean, the judiciary is hardly independent. The minister of justice is appointed directly by the executive. The public prosecutor’s office is also appointed by the executive. I mean, any judiciary, regardless of its independence, still operates within a political context. And in this case we see it as simply being party to the kind of filling out the kind of orders or the directives of the police in this case.
DESVARIEUX: Let’s turn and talk about Secretary of State John Kerry. He came out saying that he wants to support human rights in Egypt. And some could argue that his policies don’t necessarily reflect that. First I want to get your take on the U.S. position in Egypt, and also what sort of policy should Americans be advocating for if they want to be supporting and helping everyday people in Egypt.
GABER: I think that Kerry’s comments are nothing new in the realm of hypocritical State Department comments regarding human rights in Egypt. The fact that we’ve been hearing these throughout and beginning–you know, throughout the Mubarak years, while military aid continued to flow, continued to prop up what has effectively been a 60, 65 year old military regime in Egypt, you know, is very kind of–makes any talk of human rights ring very hollow.
I think that Americans need to really reevaluate, I think, what it means to support human rights in Egypt and how that actually might not be a kind of interventionist strategy and it might be through cutting aid to the military. But also I think a lot of it is going to have to be through evaluating America’s regional policy vis-à-vis Israel and also other countries within the region. But I think it really has to attempt to kind of back off the amount of control it wants to exert over the region, whether it’s for resource concerns or for ideological ones.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. And can you speak to some specifics, Sherief? ‘Cause I know earlier you were talking about the political repression that’s there in Egypt. Can you just kind of paint a picture for our viewers? What are we talking about here?
GABER: I mean, we’re talking about, in the past year, several thousand deaths at the hands of police and security forces. We’re talking about over 40,000 politically motivated arrests, at least 80, perhaps 100 deaths within police holding cells and custody. We’re seeing an incredible attempt by the police to very explicitly, very physically reassert their presence in the streets. You know.
And it began, of course, under the pretext of getting rid of the Muslim Brotherhood. And they were definitely–the Muslim Brotherhood, supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, and others kind of caught up within that dragnet were the, I think, most violently hit. But we’ve seen, of course, that it’s not just about the Brotherhood, that this is an attempt to destroy any forms of basic political organization. This is a revenge move by the police state. Anybody who stood up in the past three years is now a target.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Sherief Gaber, thank you so much for joining us from Cairo.
GABER: Thank you for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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