Egyptians in Cairo carry the coffin of a soldier killed in the Sinai Peninsula during a July 2017 attack by Islamists aligned with Islamic State. (Mahmoud Bakkar/AFP/Getty Images)

Cairo Sees Report on Sinai as ‘Politicized and Misleading’

Egyptian government accuses Human Rights Watch of being ‘biased toward terror’

The Egyptian government severely criticized a report by Human Rights Watch on Cairo’s fight against terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula and accused the international organization of being “biased toward terrorism” and “working to destroy countries.”

Egyptian Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel-Aal stated during the plenary session of the parliament on Sunday that HRW presents itself as an organization that seeks reform “but has turned into an organization that seeks to destroy regimes, where it’s directly and indirectly involved in the devastation of many systems in countries.”

Abdel-Aal’s comments came in response to Human Rights Watch’s latest report on the campaign against terror in Sinai, which includes accusations of Egyptian forces being involved in “war crimes,” in addition to implementing “arbitrary mass arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings and possibly air and ground attacks against civilians.”

Mahmoud al-Sharbene, an Egyptian political commentator, explained to The Media Line that after 2010, terrorist elements infiltrated into the Sinai Peninsula.

“This was in line with the aspirations of the Islamic group [the Muslim Brotherhood] that ruled the country until 2013,” he said.

Sharbene clarified that the Brotherhood – which Egypt and other Arab countries consider terrorists – provided the appropriate climate for the extremist groups to grow and strengthen their structural organization.

“They [the terrorist groups] used violence against [the will] of Egyptian society as well as the army and country as a whole… [and] carried out terror attacks on the Egyptian streets,” he said.

After classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in 2013, Egyptian forces immediately started fighting these groups and other splinter groups, al-Sharbene noted.

“It’s totally normal for the army to defend the country and [destroy] these groups,” he said.

Moreover, he emphasized the difference between terrorism and politics.

“Opposition to a political system doesn’t include supporting terror groups or joining them,” he explained. “Some opponents have lost their political stature and [want] to overthrow the state in any way possible.”

In a situation where Egyptian national security is affected, he said, security forces must react appropriately.

In Egypt, the definition of a terrorist group has largely become synonymous with the Muslim Brotherhood. In 2013, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, at the time an army general and today president of Egypt, led the overthrow of then-leader Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Sisi then passed legislation banning the group.

Egypt has since been plagued by a violent insurgency that officials view as part of a revenge campaign by Muslim Brotherhood members or those sympathetic to the group’s ideology.

Since the overthrow of the Morsi government, the Egyptian army also has waged a fierce counter-terrorism operation against an Islamic State-affiliated group in Sinai. There has been a concurrent upsurge in attacks on the Coptic Christian community, as well as on security personnel in the Nile Valley.

Last year, Sisi emphasized in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly the need for a “global war” against terrorism.

Qasem Qasser, a Lebanese analyst and writer, stressed that fighting terror is a legitimate right for any country, although sometimes within the framework of fighting terror, some violations of human rights take place.

“It happens everywhere, even in the western world,” Qasser said.

For instance, he said, following the attacks of September 11, the United States restricted human rights, and after the latest wave of terror attacks by ISIS in Europe, European security groups began spying on people and carrying out “other [human rights] violations.”

Nevertheless, he affirmed that facing and fighting terror also required protection of human rights and should provide the appropriate political environment for this.

“The Egyptian government should consider the Human Rights Watch report and clarify the accusations against it,” Qasser said.

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