EIPR suspends its participation in the National Dialogue after the arrest of a participant

Press Release

14 September 2023

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) announced today the suspension of its participation in the National Dialogue sessions after the arrest and detention of leading unionist Dr. Mohamed Zahran, the founder of the Independent National Union of Egyptian Teachers and one of the experts participating in the Education Committee’s sessions at the National Dialogue.

EIPR said that using political charges to detain one of the participants in the dialogue called for by the president of the republic is a direct threat to the freedom and safety of citizens who agreed to participate in the dialogue and share their visions and proposals as experts or as representatives of political groups and constituencies, trade unions or civic organizations. It added that this precedent requires a decisive reaction from the board of trustees of the dialogue and the rapporteurs of its focal areas and committees, in line with their responsibility for protecting the participants.

Zahran's wife told EIPR that contact with her husband has been cut off since he was summoned to the National Security (State Security) headquarters in Abbasiya,Cairo on the evening of 5 September. This came after he announced his participation in an event that was scheduled to be hosted by the Conservative Party on 10 September on the occasion of Egyptian Teacher's Day. That same evening, Zahran’s wife received a call asking her to bring Zahran's personal mobile phone to the National Security headquarters and to hand it over at the gate. Zahran’s family only learned yesterday, 12 September, that he had been brought before the Supreme State Security Prosecution on 6 September. The prosecution remanded him in custody for 15 days on charges of joining a  seditious group and spreading false news. This came against the backdrop of his years-long activism to defend teachers' rights and demand the independence of the teachers' union, and his call for holding union elections which have not been held since 2014. Zahran was taken to  the 10th of Ramadan Prison, remanded in connection with Case No. 2123 of 2023 (Supreme State Security Investigations).

EIPR reiterates that its decision to accept the invitation and participate positively in the National Dialogue sessions through the inputs of its researchers and experts came in line with the approach it has adopted over the past 21 years. It further noted that this was based on its belief that every space that could be occupied and every  possible opportunity that presents itself  should be seized to present facts and evidence; refute lies, provide expertise, and propose the necessary measures and  policies that can only begin to address all aspects of the chronic human rights crisis in Egypt. This human rights that has intensified over the past ten years and reached unprecedented levels. EIPR said its participation in the National Dialogue along with most political, societal and union forces was not based on any optimistic expectation that political arrests and other gross human rights violations would stop as soon as the dialogue sessions began. Rather, EIPR continued over the past two years its work in documenting and exposing arrests, which have actually been on the rise since the President of the Republic called for the launch of the National Dialogue and have not ceased since the Dialogue commenced in May. EIPR believes that Zahran’s arrest and the State Security Prosecution’s decision to remand him on political charges that exclusively stem from his union work convey a message of contempt for the participants in that process as well as those in charge of it, rendering it morally unacceptable to continue participating in the Dialogue until Dr. Zahran is released.

Over the past months, EIPR has actively participated in the works of the Human Rights and Public Freedoms Committee which is part of the political focal group of the Dialogue. It participated in both the session on the establishment of the Anti-Discrimination Commission and the session on freedom of expression and journalists' rights. EIPR also took part in the activities of the Social Justice Committee in the economic focal group; participating actively in the session on social protection policies. Finally, EIPR  contributed to the works of the societal focal group;participating in the Health Committee’s session on the comprehensive health insurance law and the Population Policy Committee’s session on family planning and reproductive health programs.