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UN Development Agency Embraces Egypt’s Abusive Rulers

Donors Shouldn’t Engage in Whitewashing Horrendous Rights Record

President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi appears with UNDP officials at the release of the new UNDP Egypt report in the new administrative capital, east of Cairo, September 14, 2021.  Screenshot from Egyptian Presidency Official YouTube Channel

The United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Egypt office issued a press release last week lavishing praise on President al-Sisi’s government’s supposed “good governance and accountability.” This is a very different Egypt from the one Human Rights Watch and other rights organizations have been monitoring.

Instead, we have documented a brutal crackdown on human rights across the country, characterized by routine arbitrary detention of rights activists and civil society leaders, widespread torture, and extrajudicial killings.

UNDP Egypt cites improvements in prison conditions. But what of the many documented deaths of detainees from torture and medical neglect? The authors of the UNDP report should have consulted the human rights experts appointed by the UN itself, including the special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, who wrote after former President Morsy died in detention in 2019 that the awful conditions of detention mean “thousands more detainees across Egypt … may be at high risk of death.”

Another UNDP claim at odds with reality is its assertion that Sisi’s “Egypt has worked to strengthen accountability mechanisms” but this is far from the case when it comes to human rights. In fact, very few security officials responsible for rampant torture and extrajudicial executions have been investigated or held to account for violations they’ve committed.

The UNDP even cites favorably Law 149/2019 on NGOs, which reflects President al-Sisi’s determination to throttle the work of independent human rights groups and other civil society organizations and mandates security agency intervention in almost every detail of their work. The law’s enforcement may well bring about the demise of the few remaining independent organizations in the county.

The UNDP needs to reverse course and avoid whitewashing Egypt’s human rights record. The Sisi government will use this report to deflect questions about the country’s abysmal human rights situation. Lending institutions like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and states like the US, France, and others that sell arms to Egypt and support al-Sisi’s government financially, should not be deceived by the UNDP’s report. They need to confront the brutal reality in Egypt by ending security assistance and sanctioning abusive institutions.

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