Canada’s Silence on Egypt A Sin
Canada’s current relationship with Egypt discredits its mandate to uphold human rights
By: Ahmed Abdelkader Elpannann*
Tues., July 3, 201
Among the Trudeau Liberals’ most egregious foreign policy errors is to have positioned Canada as one of the biggest apologists for the autocratic regime in Egypt. In the past few years, as Egyptian society slips deeper into despotic rule under former general Abd-Fattah El-Sisi, the Trudeau administration seems incapable of making a critical comment toward their North African partner.
Documented by the world’s leading human rights organizations, the Sisi regime’s crimes are incontrovertible: locking up thousands of political prisoners; subjecting them to physical and psychological abuse; conducting forced disappearances; maintaining a massive opaque prison system known for torture.
Not to mention political and electoral fraud. Sisi “won” a general election this year with a comical 97% of the popular vote. No self-respecting observer across the world takes the results very seriously, especially given how Sisi intimidated and locked up all his potential opponents leading up to Election Day.
Canada should’ve stood up to Sisi long ago in the name of human rights. It’s now up to civil society to push Ottawa to take off its blinders. To that effect, a number of concerned citizens have signed an open letter issued by the advocacy group Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD) to Prime Minister Trudeau. In short, the document asks the PM to support the Egyptian people by condemning the Sisi regime’s unprecedented crimes, “and to call for a hearing to discuss abuses of human rights in Egypt,” drawing on recognized experts and former victims.
Let’s not forget: Sisi first came to power through a coup, not an election. Mohammed Morsi, elected by a fair vote in 2012 to be President of Egypt, was overthrown a year later by a military-backed takeover. Sisi, a military general at the time, then stepped in to fill the executive void. The new regime then ordered the gunning down of over a thousand demonstrators who protested the coup.
Today, like thousands of others, Morsi is lying on a cement floor somewhere in the Egyptian prison system, forced into solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.
Ottawa didn’t say much while all this unfolded. In fact, ever since the 2013 coup, when Stephen Harper was still in charge, Ottawa has continuously praised Sisi’s reign, even in the face of mass arrests that number in the tens of thousands. The good that this bizarre policy is supposed to bring Canadians has yet to bear fruit.
Meanwhile, Sisi’s brutal security apparatus has been more than happy to also jail Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Look up the cases of journalist Mohamed Fahmy, or of activists Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, not to mention the harrowing case of Khaled Al-Qazzaz. All were released from Egyptian cells only after popular protest and a lot of teeth-pulling. Greyson is a signee of the ECCD letter, along with numerous other political and civic leaders like Amir Khadir, a member in Quebec’s National Assembly and Mohammed Fadel, a prominent academic at the University of Toronto.
But the Canadian political class has yet to clue itself in. Take for example the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association delegation’s visit last year to Egypt led by Liberal MP Robert Oliphant. The trip was meant to expose Canadian Parliamentarians to the social and political conditions in Cairo and elsewhere that Egyptian legislators face as they struggle to govern.
For whatever reason, the CAPA’s subsequent report of the visit borders on pro-Sisi propaganda. It’s a virtual whitewash of the regime’s countless violations and crimes, replete with highly questionable observations like how badly Sisi wants to improve women’s rights. Is this what Canadian foreign policy looks like these days? The ECCD addresses this strange report in its letter by pointing out the lack of objective criticism. So far, the Canadian government hasn’t shown any willingness to remedy its mistakes.
It’s no exaggeration to assert that Canada now maintains one of the most apologist stance toward Egypt, one of the Arab world’s most strategic countries. Even the highly dysfunctional government down South have been far more critical. Think about that: Trump’s America has a more rational, pro-human rights orientation toward Egypt than Ottawa.
Last year Trump himself withheld $300 million in aid from Egypt because it failed to make progress regarding human rights and democracy. This year, Congress warned Sisi another $300 million of annual aid will be withheld if certain human rights standards aren’t met. John McCain, Marco Rubio, and others have all issued statements decrying Sisi’s antipathy toward human rights.
Across the Atlantic, a group of UK MPs recently urged for Mohammed Morsi to be allowed adequate medical treatment. The EU Parliament also debated and voted on a report decrying Sisi’s autocratic tendencies.
And Canada? Has Trudeau or his government at least condemned the mass imprisonment or the extrajudicial killings carried out under Sisi’s reign? Have they condemned the unprecedented degree of political fraud and oppression under Sisi? Have they at least warned Sisi of how the current situation impedes Egypt’s socioeconomic growth?
No. Nothing has been done and that needs to change immediately.
* Ahmed Abdelkader Elpannann is the founder and president of Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD). ECCD was founded to provide a platform and lend support to Canadian and Egyptian advocates of democracy and human rights in Egypt. Ahmed is a former board member of the Canadian Muslim Forum and the Canadian Citizens movement, He is a telecom engineer and technology entrepreneur by day.