Monday 7 November 2022
COP27: GREENWASHING EGYPT’S DICTATORSHIP AND HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES CONFERENCE HOSTED BY GUERNICA 37 CHAMBERS, LONDON
As the world’s media clamours over the Russian aggression in Ukraine, the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen, and political instability across the globe, little if any attention is afforded to the imminent COP27 to be held at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt this week. Ruled by a military regime with an abysmal human rights record, on the brink of economic collapse and facing untold environmental disasters, the Arab world’s most populous nation faces a bleak future.
Guernica 37 has long pushed for truth, justice and accountability to be at the forefront of the Arab Republic of Egypt’s political transition and the re-establishment of the state based on democratic principles. Egypt emerged from a dictatorship and following an all too brief affair with democracy returned to autocratic rule with the military takeover in 2013. Since that time, Egypt has been characterised by the circumvention of the rule of law, the decimation of judicial independence and the crushing of descent. COP27 represents an opportunity for world leaders to press for wide sweeping reforms and to stand by the victims of a brutal dictatorship.
The panel event chaired by Toby Cadman (co-founder of Guernica 37 Chambers), was attended by Dr Maha Azzam (Chair of Egyptians for Democracy and former Fellow at Chatham House), Joe Stork (American political activist and Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch), Phillip Luther (Research & Advocacy Director, Amnesty International UK), Peter Oborne (award-winning journalist, broadcaster and former lead writer of the Telegraph), Professor Paul Reynolds (independent adviser on international relations, economics and governance), Bill Law (Sony award-winning journalist, editor of the Arab Digest and founder of Gulf Matters), Zamzam Ibrahim (climate justice activist and Amelia Smith (writer and journalist).
The conference drew attention to the Egyptian military regime’s shameless exploitation of COP27 as a way to greenwash its appalling human rights abuses and to evade the consequences of the failing development projects it has initiated.
Toby Cadman opened the session by speaking about Guernica 37’s work and Egypt’s 60,000 prisoners of conscience, both of which demonstrate an unaccountable military dictatorship in Egypt, a supine judiciary and corrupt State institutions: all of which brazenly trample over basic human rights, resulting in one of the world’s worst records.
Dr Maha Azzam detailed the inextricable link connecting climate justice, the environment and human justice. She asserted that “without a vibrant civil society, we cannot hold governments accountable, and we need this in Egypt as well as elsewhere. Egyptians need to have freedom of assembly and freedom of speech to ensure that there is a halt to the harm done to the environment as, for example, with the New Administrative Capital (NAC) outside of Cairo.” Dr Azzam called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “to talk about human rights and the prisoners of conscience in Egypt” and for “civil society to keep up the pressure not only during the coming weeks of COP27 but following the end of the conference”.
Peter Oborne described Egypt as a criminal State and COP27 as mega PR, which deftly averted attention from the miserably failing Egyptian (military dominated) economy. He further remarked on the “pathetic approach of all British governments on Egypt in general and especially the Tories”.
Professor Paul Reynolds revisited the panel’s recurring theme, highlighting the Egyptian military’s control and domination of the economy, accusing it of suffocating entrepreneurship and competition, and citing the infamous Juhayna case. He stated the following: “even diary companies have been hijacked by the military.” He appeared pessimistic in relation to Egypt’s future.
Joe Stork listed freedom of expression, free movement and safety from government reprisals as core values necessary for any progressive society to advance, which have been trampled on by Egypt. He described COP27 as an “opportunity to represent human rights”, and he lamented that “whilst COP27 in Egypt could have been an opportunity for environmental research, it is being blocked by laws created to cover the military businesses such as water bottling, cement factories, and quarrying…serious polluters that create scarcities (in which the military is heavily invested) and this is one of the reasons why the Government is so sensitive in creating barriers”.
Echoing all the above points, Philip Luther accused the Egyptian authorities of excluding independent human rights organisations and listed a number of laws recently passed by the regime to control and stifle free speech and freedom of movement, adding that “after Emergency State was lifted, a new set of laws were introduced as back door to ensure the policies continue” and reiterating the military’s slick use of PR to sanitise their image on the world stage.
Bill Law recalled George Floyd’s brutal murder whilst he shouted “I can’t breathe”, equating it with suppression of human rights in Egypt and the wider MENA region. He argued that “the earth’s lungs are being squeezed to the point where we all cannot breathe…the battle for human rights is inextricably woven into the battle to save the earth’s environment”.
Amelia Smith described human rights abuses and environmental issues in Sinai, particularly the issue of St Catherine's Protectorate and the destruction of the natural environment by the government mega project, namely the Grand Transfiguration Project. She highlighted the tragic irony of hundreds of homes destroyed through the “war on terror” in the Sinai - the very place where COP27 is being staged, pointing out the non-existence of Egyptian NGOs in the Sinai.
Former National President of the National Union of Students, Zamzam Ibrahim, declined the invitation to attend COP27 in Egypt on the basis of personal safety. She talked about the role played by youth in tackling climate change and stated that “Egypt is using COP27 to distract from the real issues of human rights that blight the lives of many Egyptians”.
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1. Guernica 37 Chambers is a specialist group of international criminal and human rights lawyers with a socially committed and multi-disciplinary outlook. It works to bringing accountability for international crimes and human rights violations. www.guernica37.com
2. To view the conference, please visit: https://youtu.be/Skj5jfqB5EE
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