HRW’s Egypt hatchet job a self-inflicted wound

It was no happenstance that the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) chose the anniversary of Egypt’s 2013 dispersal of six-week-long Cairo Muslim Brotherhood (MB) sit-ins to release its damning report during a planned press conference in the Egyptian capital. And this at a time when the Brotherhood announced it was poised to “sow chaos throughout Egypt” under “the banner of retribution.”

In the event, HRW’s representatives were barred entry on the grounds they failed to garner the appropriate work visas—as opposed to tourist visas available at airports—when they promptly spouted their one-sided bile in Geneva, accusing top Egyptian figures of committing “crimes against humanity.”

Great timing for such slanderous accusations when the Egyptian government is mediating a long-term ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians and is being praised by both sides of the conflict for handling its role with sensitivity!

True to its threats, the Brotherhood has, indeed, gone all out to sow chaos over the last few days, blocking major highways with burning tires, torching residences, buses and private cars, holding passengers at knife point, taking over trains, planting more than 30 bombs, shooting at security forces and killing at least two police officers—no doubt energised by the HRW report to do their worst.

In reality, the HRW report is nothing more than a hatchet job relying on anonymous so-called witnesses, while disregarding the fact that the Brotherhood’s following in those squares were warned to leave in safety via leaflets dropped from the air over many days and on the day itself were asked to come out with a guarantee that they would be unharmed on the day itself, August 14.

The armed militias guarded the perimeters of those sites and the attacks upon security forces from snipers (the first person to lose his life was a policeman). And neither did the plight of thousands of residents plagued by earsplitting noise, mountains of rat-infested garbage, threats to their safety and enforced pat-downs each time they left home. Would this state of affairs have been allowed in any Western city. No, as we can see today from the response of US police to rioters in Missouri.

The report doesn’t mention the orphans bused to Rabaa where they were paraded dressed as martyrs in shrouds or men who were attacked, tortured and killed in that sit-in where a mass grave was discovered under the mosque along with a torture room complete with noose. It points no fingers against the Brotherhood representative who threatened to “suicide-bomb” the whole of Egypt or one of its leaders who announced he had the remote that would immediately stop terrorist attacks in Sinai upon Mursi’s reinstatement.

It omits leaked phone calls between Mursi and Mohammad Al Zawahiri, a brother of Al Qaida’s current chief, when Mursi is heard inviting “our brothers” to set-up terrorist camps on the Sinai Peninsula and agreeing to free terrorists from Egypt’s prisons. It gives only passing credence to the 50-plus churches the Brotherhood fired and conveniently omits the two teenagers its members threw off a water tower in Alexandria or their indiscriminate firing at passers-by or their murders of policemen in the town of Kerdasa, whose bodies were grotesquely mutilated.

The fact that HRW seemingly champions the rights of a group branded a terrorist organisation by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE—and which is being probed by the UK—over the rights of 90 million Egyptians is utterly preposterous.

Egypt is just beginning to emerge from years in intensive care and instead of nurturing its progress, Western powers and their instruments, galvanised by the anti-Egyptian stance of President Barack Obama, have gone all out to hinder it.

The majority of Egyptians are thankful that their president saved this nation from turning into an Islamist state magnet for terrorists or, alternatively, a bloody civil war. They only have to look at Libya, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Gaza to realise ‘There but for the grace of God go we!’

Egyptian human rights groups as well as political parties and ordinary citizens are enraged. On Saturday, the country’s largest Salafist party, Al Nour, dismissed the HRW report as “foreign intervention.” A Geneva-based international law professor, Dr Awad Shafiq, denounced it for ignoring the crimes committed by demonstrators and the right of police to use weapons against armed terrorists and criminals.

The Egyptian government issued a press release acknowledging that Egypt was “not surprised” when HRW’s “orientations are known” and slamming the report as “unprofessional” for “relying on anonymous unreliable accounts” and “twisting the truth.”

HRW’s unlicensed evidence collecting amounted to a violation of state sovereignty that served to undercut Egypt’s judiciary and human rights organisations, the government asserts. It’s time that Human Rights Watch itself received a major shake-up. Its spokesman Omar Shakir was seen animatedly relishing his slur-spewing task. A visit to his Twitter page speaks volumes as to his ‘impartiality’ or rather lack of it.

As HRW’s former chairman, Robert L. Bernstein wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, titled ‘Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Middle East,’ “Only by returning to its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it, can Human Rights Watch resurrect itself as a moral force in the Middle East and throughout the world. If it fails to do that, its credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.”

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

One Response to HRW’s Egypt hatchet job a self-inflicted wound

  1. The only hatchet job here is Heard’s. One can only wonder how an objective person could support the counterrevolutionary military junta now in control of Egypt.