Q&A with Mark LeVine: Have human rights been left behind in Egypt?

Historians in the News

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at UC Irvine.

Irvine, California -The following interviews were done with representatives of several Egyptian and international human rights organisations who have intimate knowledge of the current human rights situation in the country. Due to the sensitive nature of many of the questions, they requested anonymity.

As Egypt votes, most mainstream observers are taking as a given that, despite various irregularities, the elections have been broadly "free and fair". Does the human rights community in Egypt consider them as such?

No. The elections lack at least the principles of the international laws for various reasons. First, you can't have an election in a country that is essentially under ongoing emergency rule. Second, the Ministry of Internal Affairs shouldn't be controlling the electoral process, which is what is happening in reality. Third, we have no idea what standards the Electoral Commission is relying upon concerning electoral procedures. Some stations have been taking 150,000 votes and others were up to a half a million voters. Are they doing it according to geographical standards, or according to the number of people? These questions were raised while we were watching the election and we still don't have answers.

How can we understand the political component of the election?

Regardless of which parties or coalitions will ultimately win, the facts are that upwards of 40 per cent of the people lack any basics of political education or culture. A certain amount of poor people are voting based on simple ideological manipulation by one or the other factions. And it's clear that political movements are still buying some votes, while others are making outlandish promises, or are using religion, and even mosques, as core elements of electoral campaigns despite the ban on doing so.

What role can local human rights organisations play in educating voters on these issues? Do Egyptians understand their rights yet?

We must talk to the citizens and let them know what their rights are and how to vote so that there are fewer surprises at the polls. We do that by having campaigns to raise awareness among the people. We also help train candidates on the logistics of running a campaign and report any irregularities in the election, by following the ballot boxes and the updates of the committees that are watching the election. We are doing our best to ensure that people understand their [political] rights and how they are related to human rights. But it's not simple to explain human rights to people in the countryside where the public sphere is less developed and so many are uneducated. But we are doing our best to reach as many people as possible.

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