Egypt’s human rights battle with Qatar

Indentured labour. Migrant workers walking next to a construction site in the Qatari capital Doha. (AFP)

2017/10/15 Issue: 127 Page: 15

The Arab Weekly
Amr Emam

Cairo - Hafez Abu Saada and Mo­hammed al-Ghoul rep­resent different — and occasionally divergent — groups that investi­gate human rights in Egypt. Despite disagreements and trading accusa­tions, both men agree about the scale of Qatar’s “flagrant” human rights abuses.

Abu Saada, head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), one of Egypt’s largest rights groups, is preparing a lengthy report on human rights violations allegedly committed by Doha against the political opposition and foreign workers.

The report has the backing of Ghoul, deputy leader of the Human Rights Committee in the Egyptian parliament. The committee is work­ing on its own report about human rights in Qatar, including docu­menting what Ghoul described as the “unlimited” support Doha is of­fering terrorist groups.

Qatari authorities are accused of restricting the rights of freedom of expression, association and peace­ful assembly. Hundreds of thou­sands of migrant workers, particu­larly those working in construction on stadiums ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, face exploitation and abuses, human rights groups claim.

“Qatar must be brought to ac­count for the human rights viola­tions it commits,” Abu Saada said.

“It is about time the whole world knew the disgraceful record of the Qatari regime, which squanders the wealth of its people for the pleasure of terrorists and killers,” Ghoul said.

Egyptian rights groups, some backed by the government but also independent ones, such as the EOHR, said they will no longer stay silent on Qatar’s human rights abuses.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut dip­lomatic and trade ties with Qatar in June and presented Doha with a list of 13 demands to be met before nor­malisation of relations.

The countries accuse Qatar of financing terrorism and interfer­ing in their domestic affairs. They specifically called for Doha to stop supporting groups designated as terrorist organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

By opening a human rights front in the war against Qatar, Egyptian groups said they were responding in kind to Qatar’s tactics. Cairo ac­cused Qatar of financing interna­tional human rights groups that allegedly fabricate reports about human rights violations, exaggerat­ing problems facing Egypt.

The Qatari-backed, Geneva-based Alkarama Foundation has published reports about alleged human rights violations in Egypt. Egyptian activists, including Abu Saada, acknowledge that human rights violations do take place in Egypt and are working to address this. They said Qatar-backed groups are raising such issues for political reasons and to harm the Egyptian state.

Abu Saada and Ghoul said their groups will file complaints about Qatar’s human rights violations at relevant international organisa­tions, including the UN Human Rights Council.

“Parliament’s Human Rights Committee is preparing to partici­pate in a large number of interna­tional events during which it will stand up for the victims of Qatar’s human rights violations both inside Qatar and outside it,” Ghoul said. “We will file reports in this regard wherever we go.”

Abu Saada revealed that the EOHR had been granted powers of attorney from the families of doz­ens of victims of terrorist attacks in Egypt and that it intends to file law­suits against Qatar in international courts over its sponsorship of ter­rorist groups.

“Qatar is the main sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood, the move­ment that has been staging terror­ist attacks here for more than three years,” Abu Saada said. “We will demand compensation for the poor families of the victims of these at­tacks.”

This move to tackle Qatar’s hu­man rights violations is not just taking place in Egypt. In Geneva, Switzerland, Mohamed Abdel Naeem, head of Egyptian NGO United National Organisation for Human Rights, is coordinating ac­tion against Qatar with European human rights groups.

“We are here to divulge Qatar’s practices in front of everybody,” Abdel Naeem said from Geneva in a telephone conversation. “We have prepared documents and ar­guments to show the world that the state that claims to defend human rights in other countries is itself the largest human rights violator.”

Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.

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