Resisting Authoritarianism: Human Rights, Democracy and the Dissident Movement with Saad Eddin Ibrahim

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a prominent Egyptian social scientist, human rights defender and democracy advocate, addresses the 1st Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.


Full remarks


As I was reading the program and the bios, I felt very humbled. So even though I spent a few years in prison – I suffered in prison, I lost a great deal of health – [] reading these bios was very humbling. Suffering of others, many others around the world, made my suffering look very modest. However, at the root of it all is the same common problem, same common human condition.

I heard in the presentation this morning words like “never again.” And yet, it keeps happening. Genocide keep happening, crimes against humanity keep happening. Oppression, suppression, the racist acts keep occuring and unfolding. And therefore, we, out here in this very distinguished gathering of freedom fighters, dissidents, prisoners of conscience, human rights defenders, we ought to see together how we can work together and who is going to work with us outside this hole to truly uphold human rights and human dignity. As I said reading the buyers and hearing the speakers this morning, they’re either victims or prisoners of conscience or human rights defenders. And speaking of human rights defenders since they have the floor, I must pay tribute to all of those who stood by me when I was suffering. And I’d like to single out the chairman of the first session, Irwin Cotler, who was among my defenders and who wrote probably the best legal brief in my defense. Even though it was so eloquent and so compelling, [] I was still convicted and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, in due course his legal brief found its way to the high court and I was acquitted on appeal and that’s why I’m here, free and sharing this forum with you.

I want to just say in the few minutes left in this presentation that there is a real coalition of autocrats, of authoritarian rulers, around the world. I can’t help but be struck by Mr. Mugabe, who lost an election in his own country. And yet, by hawks and crooks, managed to stay in power. Repudiated by all the world democracies and all freedom fighters around the world. This very despicable leader of Zimbabwe was received, wined and dined by President Mubarak in Egypt and Sharm El-Sheikh in an African Summit and I couldn’t believe it. How could this happen in my country? And yet, because if your house is made of glass, you can’t treat other people otherwise. And Mugabe, Mubarak, Assad, Qaddafi, Al-Bashir, these are all brothers. They stand in solidarity with one another. They undermine international law, they undermine every human rights declaration, every human right quote and they get away with it. How do they get away?

We heard this morning references to how they call us, how they gang together. If anybody can believe that Libya could be elected chairman of the Human Rights Council it makes a mockery out of the Human Rights bodies; dictators hanging together counting votes. And of course, they can do it. They have the African organization of African Unity votes. They have the Organization of Islamic Conference votes. They have the Arab League’s votes. And when you add those up, it is the majority of the world community. And with that unenlightened majority, they have managed to control all the Human Rights Councils and continue to victimize people, like yourselves in this place and many many millions who do not have the voice, who could not be with us here, and who could not at least have their outcries be heard by some.So we have to stand together. 

I am alarmed not only by the coalition of the autocrats but also by the ambivalence, and sometimes indifference, of the Democrats. And here I wanna sound an alarm and blow a whistle. When I heard Hillary Clinton saying that human rights issues will not stand in the way of improving relations between America and China, I cringed. Here is a country that just elected a great president of their own. Yet, his foreign minister does not seem to hear the suffering of millions of Chinese. Not only that, but a few weeks later, she will stand in Sharm El-Sheikh and refer to our dictator in Egypt as a good friend of her family. Mubarak’s a good friend of her family. So again, human rights issues will not stand in improving relations between the good friends of our family and the Mubaraks in Egypt. These are the kind of things that encourage dictators and encourage autocrats to continue to do operations as usual. So we have to stand together and we have to blow the whistle, not only on the dictators but also on the indifference and the ambivalence of the Democrats. 

We have a third danger to human rights and that is theocrats in the world world. We heard this morning our chairperson talking about Iran, Taliban, Sudan. These are all violators of human rights in the name of religion. So between the autocrats and theocrats, we the human rights defenders, we the genuine democrats, have to stand together and look for new allies to stand with us. Again, it’s overwhelming odds. With these words I’d like to thank you again and long live freedom.

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