A campaign by the Egyptian government for The World Youth forum backfires with a trending hashtag #WeNeedToTalk to criticize human rights situation in Egypt.
The forum is to be launched on November 4, in the touristic city of Sharm El Sheikh hosting young people from different countries. “The forum is a chance for you to engage with top policy-makers in the region and network with promising youth from the region and the world that are determined to create change in the world we live in today,” according to the official website.
The government proposed the hashtag #WeNeedToTalk as a way for people to communicate and share ideas to be discussed in the forum. This comes in a time where the Egyptian government is heavily criticized by several international organizations for its constant rising violation of human rights.
Human Rights Watch published its annual report about human rights status in Egypt which showed the crackdown on political dissent in the year of 2016. In September 2017, another report was published called “We Do Unreasonable things here” which documents torture and national security state under the ruling of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The report discussed in detail with an animated video the horrific ways in which the police and secret services use to torture prisoners. “Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s regular police and National Security officers routinely torture political detainees with techniques including beatings, electric shocks, stress positions, and sometimes rape,” stated in the report.
HRW also took part in the counter-campaign condemning the Egyptian government.
Egyptians used the #WeNeedToTalk to highlight the violations under the presidency of al-Sisi. “#WeNeedToTalk about the 7 months I spent in prison without trial. We need to talk about the laws you broke to keep me on this unjustified and prolonged detention. We need to talk about the mental issues I’m suffering because of you,” posted one user.
Several online users called out the irony in the campaign’s advertisement “Join us in the World Youth Conference in Egypt, where the conversation begins”
According to a monthly report by Elnadeem Against Violence and Torture, using the same hashtag, in the month of October:
57 extrajudicial killings, including two during the forced disappearance
10 deaths in detention
23 reported cases of individual torture
18 reported cases of collective torture or maltreatment
51 complaints of medical negligence in detention resulting in the death of two detainees
132 reports of forced disappearance
195 reports of reappearance in prosecution offices after various periods of disappearance
34 incidents of state violence outside places of detention
Mona Seif, human rights activist posted “26 workers facing military trials for organizing a strike demanding their rights, but sure #WeNeedtoTalk.”
Seif comes from a family of activists as he father spent five years in prison under the ousted Mohamed Hosni Mubarak and her brother Alaa Abdelfattah is currently in prison for their activism.
Online users also used the hashtag to call out abuses done to the LGBTQ community in Egypt. According to a report by The Tahrir Institute to Middle East Policy, at least 65 people arrested in September after raising a rainbow flag in a concert. The police arrested people based on their sexuality or their support to the LGBTQ community. Ahmed Alaa and Sarah Hijazi are still in prison pending trial.
The forum calls for youth participation to discuss issues in five main categories:
- Youth Global Issues which focuses on “terrorism, climate change, irregular migration, the refugee crisis, peace in conflict zones, development,” as posted on the official website.
- Sustainable Development, Technology, and Entrepreneurship
- Civilizations and Culture
- Creating Future Leaders
- Model United Nations
One of the topics to be discussed is the role of women in building the future. This comes less than a month of the Thomson Reuters report naming Cairo as “most dangerous megacity for women”
Sexual Harassment and assault are being used by the government to deter women from participation. The Egyptian army arrested female protestors and forced them to undergo virginity tests.“When army officers violently cleared Tahrir Square on 9 March – the day after International Women’s Day – 18 women were detained, beaten, given electric shocks, of which 17 were then subjected to strip searches, forced to submit to ‘virginity tests’ and threatened with prostitution charges,” stated in an article by Amnesty International.
Activists are calling for the wide use of the hashtag #WeNeedToTalk in English to expose the reality of the government to the international community and to post more when the forum starts.