German police have cancelled planned training for Egyptian Interior Ministry officers that would have included sessions on monitoring the internet. The training was to have been part of German-Egyptian cooperation on counter-terrorism.
The government response to lawmakers, that Human Rights Watch reviewed, said the cancellation was prompted by fears that the skills may be “used to pursue other groups” – a clear reference to how the Egyptian government has been using counter-terrorism as a pretext to crush all forms of opposition, including by using mass surveillance, torture, enforced disappearances, and mass death sentences.
This is exactly the kind of step that Germany, as well as Egypt’s other allies, should take.
Egyptian officials have long used the violent extremism which Egypt faces as an excuse to eradicate their peaceful critics. In May, the government blocked the websites of 21 political groups and news outlets. As of October, the number of blocked websites reached 425, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, an independent Egyptian group. While some of the websites blocked did host some extremist material, the vast majority are independent news websites and rights organizations including the websites of Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and Qantara, which is sponsored by Germany’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The government is clearly using the security technology it acquires from abroad to pursue all independent voices in the country, including those that promote dialogue and human rights.
And it’s not just organizations being targeted either. Gay and transgender people are also being spied on, entrapped and arrested by police through social media platforms.
It would be great to see more decisions like Germany’s. First and foremost, European Union rules state that it is strictly prohibited for member states to provide military and security assistance if it might be used for internal repression. Second, continuing to provide abusive security forces with technology and training may eventually amount to complicity in such abuses.
Finally, simply raising human rights issues with Egyptian officials in meetings has proved not to be enough. Germany’s bold move shows what is really needed if Egypt is ever to be persuaded to end its wholesale repression of dissent.