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Human rights still at risk in Egypt

As the Muslim Brotherhood announces new rallies and General el-Sissi calls for a mandate to take stronger action against the opposition, human rights in Egypt are scarcely safe in the hands of either side.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is Egypt's new strong man: army chief, defense minister and deputy prime minister all in one. But el-Sissi is reaching for more. Clad in a grey uniform decorated with dozens of medals, and wearing dark sunglasses, the general addressed military graduates in Cairo on Wednesday (24.07.2013) in a speech broadcast live by state media.

"I ask all honest and trustworthy Egyptians to come out on to the streets next Friday to give me a mandate to face potential violence and terrorism."

Observers say el-Sissi is trying to get backing for a massive strike against the Muslim Brotherhoodand for an extension of military authority.

When the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, was toppled in early July, the military also invoked the will of the people. Millions of Egyptians had protested against Morsi and Islamist rule. The anti-Islamist group Tamarod, which spearheaded the street protests then, backed el-Sissi's new call. Tamarod urged Egyptians to pack the nation's major squares on Friday to "support the armed forces' coming war on terrorism."

Muslim Brotherhood plans rallies

The Muslim Brotherhood have refused to be impressed by the latest statements and have said that will hold a rival rally on Friday. "Your threat will not prevent millions from continuing to gather," Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader, wrote on Facebook. The Muslim Brotherhood said it would not participate in reconciliation talks urged by interim President Adli Mansur. "We refuse to recognize the current government," said a spokesman.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Morsi's supporters have not relaxed their pressure on the government since his removal

As a confrontation increasingly seems inevitable, talk of human rights has become mere lip service. "Everyone speaks about human rights, but everyone means something else," Hoda Salah, a German-Egyptian political scientist says. "When Morsi was president, he only ever meant his own peer group. Now, it is the opposite, and no one mentions the violation of rights of the Muslim Brotherhood."

The Muslim Brotherhood has protested almost daily since Morsi's fall, with often hundreds of thousands taking to the streets. There are frequent clashes, and Brotherhood supporters are often attacked, initially by security forces and more recently by armed gangs. During the regime of toppled Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, security forces paid criminal gangs to terrorize political opponents. About 200 people have been killed since Morsi was removed just three weeks ago.

Allegations of ill-treatment

Security forces resort to "excessive violence," according to Diana Eltahawy, an expert on Egypt at Amnesty International. Often police and the military shoot at demonstrators without reason, she says. Most of the 51 people who were killed during rallies outside the headquarters of the Republican Guard in early July were Morsi supporters.

Protesters carry an injured man during clashes REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

There have been injuries and deaths since the military took over - but there were before too

Amnesty International says that hundreds of Morsi supporters arrested by the Egyptian authorities have been denied their legal rights. Detainees have said that they have been beaten on arrest, subjected to electric shocks or hit with rifle butts. Several leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, have also been detained. Often, the allegations against them are unclear.

Morsi and some of his closest advisors have been held in a secret location for weeks - without an arrest warrant, without charges and without access to lawyers. "The legal basis of the arrests is unclear," says Eltahawy. Morsi's family has accused the military of kidnapping him, and the European Union has demanded his release.

Repressive policies in the past

Problems with the human rights situation in Egypt did not only start with the revolution. "Under Mubarak, the security apparatus was infamous for torturing and killing opponents of the regime," Eltahawy says. "That has not changed." The same people still work in police, military and secret service jobs.

Human rights violations were numerous during Morsi's presidency too. Critical reporters, bloggers and other opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested and charged, demonstrators were killed. It is important that the new government change direction, Eltahawy says: "The authorities must show that they are not settling old scores or carrying out a repressive policy towards the Muslim Brotherhood." Investigations must be impartial and those responsible "must be brought to justice regardless of their political orientation or rank."

Hoda Salah hopes for policies that will calm the situation and which are also committed to defending the human rights of the Muslim Brothers: "The Muslim Brotherhood must be included in the political process," she says. "Otherwise, Egypt faces years of civil war."

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