The West, a supplier of arms for dictatorships

Press release
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Op-ed by Françoise Dumont, LDH President and Karim Lahidji, FIDH President published in Libération (France), on 16 August 2015.

It has been a sad summer for human rights. King Salman has taken over the beach at Vallauris and François Hollande has the place of honour at the inauguration ceremony of the new Suez Canal, a veritable moment of glory for General el-Sisi and for Franco-Egyptian military cooperation. The French President was accompanied by top executives of the aeronautics and military industry. A summer ballet that neatly summarises the ambitions of the French Government for the Arab world.

Because, in addition to the 24 Rafale fighter planes, the FREMM multi-mission frigate and missiles sold to Egypt to fight terrorism (a fight that already killed thousands of Egyptian civilians), France, fully aware of the fact, is also selling millions of euros worth of weapons and ammunition similar to what the Egyptian army already used to kill thousands of activists.

In the name of the so-called “fight against terrorism”, the democratic western countries that are vying to arm Egypt and other authoritarian regimes are actually participating in the greatest attack on civil societies ever launched in the Arab world. Civilians, peaceful adversaries, seculars, human rights defenders, activists, journalists, jurists, and intellectuals, in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and in Syria are the key actors and foundation stone of a potential democratic transition and also the targets of the current regimes.

While “neo-realism” is being ushered into the Elysée, in order to keep up with the new stakes in security issues, tens of thousands of political prisoners and hundreds of people sentenced to death and/or victims of forced disappearance are being overlooked in today’s Egypt, which is under the unbridled control of the security forces. The press is gagged, the judiciary is under orders, and the parliamentary elections have repeatedly been postponed sine die.

Do we stick to purely strategic considerations related to the “national interest” which is constantly upheld to justify our special partnership with the Egyptian regime? This “interest” authorises us to condemn the dictatorship of Bachar Al Assad whilst supporting that of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to claim that we are fighting islamism whilst supporting the Saudi regime.

To argue that there is an element of stability in a regime supported at arm’s length by a petroleum gerontocracy of the Gulf states, a regime whose president has added to the repression imposed by his predecessor, who was himself deposed four years ago by some gigantic, unforeseen popular movement, is pure fiction. As the famous Egyptian human rights activist Bahey Eldin Hassan reminded us in his article in the New York Times, the idea that Egypt, with its authoritarian rule is stable and strong, that it has control over its territory and is the glue maintaining regional security is a myth.

He pointed out that it is in countries like Syria and Iraq, which suffered the worst decades of political repression and where the authoritarian regimes systematically dismantled national institutions that ISIS was able to move in.

Fifteen years of “war against terrorism” ended in resounding failure which allowed the jihadists to take over whole swathes of Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Today they are present in Libya and Nigeria and are openly threatening cities in Europe and America.

Four million Syrian refugees have fled their country and the slaughter of Bachar Al Assad, which is threatening regional stability. The Mediterranean has become a huge cemetery where 2,000 asylum seekers trying to escape war, repression and misery have died in less than seven months (30 times more than last year at the same period).

Providing support to dictators on the pretext of security and stability is not only proof of disdain for the people of the region, but is also a blatant denial of the reality in the region. The supporters of the security-related “neo-realism” will have you forget that the defence of human rights in 2011 was the cornerstone of the biggest mass movement in the modern history of the Arab world.

The French Government seems to be in support of a sickening, deceptive equation that balances a diplomacy of self-interest against a diplomacy of values, i.e. the security, including job security for a civil servant working for the Defence Ministry or a worker at Saint Nazaire against the life of an Egyptian opponent.

The national interest of the French, and all of the Europeans, is also defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has the unique feature of being universal: freedom and equality for all human beings

It is impossible to win the long battle against terrorism in the region without ensuring that the rights to dignity, security and physical safety apply equally to Arab citizens and European citizens: and that this is inalienable and fundamental.

When defending their interests, it is impossible for France, and the rest of Europe to think that they consolidate their influence permanently without taking into account the unyielding and ever-present universal values and the millions of people who pay a high price to obtain them.

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