Friday, February 03, 2006

Profiles of Human Rights Defenders: Negad el-Borai

Egyptian attorney Negad el-Borai has spent many years working on the behalf of democracy and human rights activists, and his work has not been easy. But it took a dangerous turn in 2005 when imams at several leading Egyptian mosques named him by person and called him a traitor for his reform work. (His colleague and friend Saad Ibrahim was also mentioned.) Worse yet, the attacks from the pulpit seemed to be directed or at least encouraged by the government's ministry of endowment, which must approve imam's sermons.

el-Borai was not silenced. He denounced the threats and continued his work, including the defense of opposition leader Ayman Nour. He has served as the director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and as the leader of the Group for Democratic Development.

el-Borai has supported a broad perspective on human rights, opposing abuses against women and gays. And he has keenly been aware of the need to strengthen civil society as a means of promoting human rights and democracy. In a 2000 talk at the National Endowment for Democracy, he said, "As we feel it, the real problem in Egypt now is a steady long, and a closing process of political de-liberalization by the last two Egyptian cabinets, control or destroy Egypt's building civil society.

"This sinister process that has been obscured by the smoke screen of the battle between the militant fundamentalist groups and the government during the 90's. Civil society stood firmly in support of government against terrorism. But when the government finally emerged victorious from that battle and the smoke subsided, we began to see final stages of this de-liberalization process."

His comments in the 2000 talk still stand true and bear repeating at some length.

"In my opinion an attempt to revive civil society cannot succeed unless the government recognizes that its oppressive and shortsighted policies have setback the country into the current economic and political crisis. To emerge out of these crises, difficult decisions have to be made, and citizens cannot be made to take the consequences without becoming partners in their homeland. The international community can play a role here by advising the Egyptian government that it has to start reconciliation with it's own civil society, by abolishing the exceptional and oppressive laws, including the continuos enforcement of the martial law.

"Government performance and accountability have to be improved, the monitoring role of the civil society has to be activated, and protection has to be guaranteed for its members.

"The international community that has evolved the principles of democracy and human rights and articulated them in international covenants must insist on their enforcement in the states that ratified them.

If international community should play a role in monitoring the progress of democracy and growth of civil society in worldwide, including Egypt. This will no doubt improve the political and economic environment for all."

His words and acts are reminder that no ideas of democracy or human rights need to be planted in Egypt. They are already there and have been for centuries; our role should be to help those believing in them find room to develop them.


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