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Egypt: Global youth summit aimed at 'rejuvenating democracy' to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh

Conference for young MPs will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh next week, despite concerns over exiled and imprisoned Egyptian lawmakers
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi giving a speech during the swearing-in ceremony for his second four-year term in office in June 2018 (AFP)

A leading global organisation that champions parliamentary democracy is holding a youth summit in Egypt, despite being warned about the country’s treatment of former MPs and political activists. 

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) will hold its Global Conference of Young Parliamentarians in Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh on 15-16 June. The summit will bring together 200 young parliamentarians from 60 countries to coordinate action on climate change, and will be co-hosted by the Egyptian parliament. 

The IPU’s slogan is “for democracy, for everyone”, and one of its key objectives is to take action to defend current and former MPs from alleged human rights violations. 

'For the young Egyptians who are not free to move, who are not free to write or tweet, it is simply a contradictory message'

- Abdel Mawgoud Dardery, former MP

However, in the run-up to the event, a former Egyptian MP raised the cases of over 100 MPs who are imprisoned in the country with the IPU - but the organisation took no further action. 

“It is very unfortunate and very tragic indeed that the IPU is doing this,” Abdel Mawgoud Dardery, the former MP for Luxor who now lives in exile in the United States, told Middle East Eye. 

Dardery said the summit gives legitimacy to a parliament that "most Egyptians" consider to belong to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, rather than the Egyptian people.

Dardery became a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party in 2012, until Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected leader, in a military coup the following year. 

Since then, former MPs, opposition figures, journalists, and activists have faced a major crackdown. Rights groups say over 60,000 political prisoners have been imprisoned since the 2013 coup. 

Freedom House, an NGO that conducts research on democracy and freedoms, described the elections of the Egyptian president, senate, and representatives as “neither free nor fair”, marred by intimidation, detention of critics, and severe interference by authorities. 

A spokesperson for the IPU has defended its decision to partner with the Egyptian lower chamber for next week’s summit.

“[Our] role is to facilitate parliamentary diplomacy and dialogue between parliamentarians for peace, democracy, and sustainable development,” Thomas Fitzsimons, the IPU's director of communications, told MEE. 

He added that the organisation held events all over the world in partnership with its 178 member parliaments. 

“The conference is part of our overall ambition to rejuvenate democracy and ensure the voice of young people are heard.”

Young Egyptians 'not free'

Yet Dardery said the partnership is more akin to a betrayal of youth.

“For the young Egyptians who are not free to move, who are not free to write or tweet, who are not free to like a post on Facebook, it is simply a contradictory message,” Dardery said. “It's giving a very bad name to the IPU, that it’s becoming part of their subjugation.”

One youth leader targeted by Sisi's government is Zyad El-Elaimy, a leading young voice during the 2011 pro-democracy revolution. 

A lawyer, he became one of the younger new members of parliament in 2012, after the ousting of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

'Now there’s 107 members of parliament who have been jailed ... for nothing but that they were representatives fairly and freely elected by the Egyptian people'

Abdel Mawgoud Dardery, former MP

Now Elaimy is among scores of former MPs imprisoned on dubious charges. 

Fitzsimons told MEE that the IPU took action to defend persecuted parliamentarians around the world, but that it had not received any information about Elaimy. He said that the organisation would “certainly consider it” if a formal complaint was made.

But Dardery says that he has written to the IPU about over 100 former MPs - including Elaimy.

“I gave the IPU a list of 102 - now there’s 107 - members of parliament who have been jailed from 2013 until today, for nothing but that they were representatives fairly and freely elected by the Egyptian people,” he said. 

“The IPU said nothing. They said that issue is not on our agenda now.” 

The former MP added that he even turned up to the global organisation’s offices in New York to discuss the issue. 

Fitzsimons confirmed that the IPU had received a list of names, but it was not able to launch investigations without more specifics on each individual.

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Among those on the list were former parliament speaker Saad El-Katatni and seven former MPs who died in custody, including Essam el-Erian, Hisham al-Qadi Hanafi, and Morsi, who served as an MP before becoming president. 

To date, the only former Egyptian MP who the IPU has raised awareness about is Mostafa al-Nagar, who is believed to have been forcibly disappeared by Egyptian authorities in 2018. 

In addition to those imprisoned, over 60 former Egyptian MPs, including Dardery, currently live in exile. Several of them have had their assets frozen, their passports revoked, and their relatives arrested. 

“Why can't [the IPU] meet with MPs who are in exile?” Dardery asked. “If they have to still go to Egypt… why can’t they demand a visit to meet their jailed colleagues?”

Asked whether the IPU would speak up on imprisoned MPs, Fitzsimons said "that is not the object of the conference, which is about climate change and bringing in the youth voice".