There are no compromises when it comes to human rights. Torture is a crime regardless of who does it; freedom of expression is guaranteed for those we agree with and those we disagree with. We either carry out our mission in its entirety, or stop working.
Amid the chaos and crackdowns that have characterized post-revolution Egypt, prominent human rights lawyer Gamal Eid has remained steadfast in his defense of human rights for all. For that, he has been consistently hounded by a regime determined to muzzle the last remaining independent voices in the country.
Gamal Eid was an idealistic young man when he first joined the struggle for human rights and democracy in Egypt in 1989, shortly after graduating from Ain Shams University's College of Law in Cairo.
At the time, Hosni Mubarak had only served a third of his term as President of the Republic of Egypt. As is the case with most authoritarian leaders, he focused much of his attention on pressuring and restricting the activities of civil society organisations. In spite of the targeted harassment and the repressive environment they were forced to operate in, civil and human rights advocates – dedicated and committed men and women like Eid – were still able to sustain and nurture a vibrant civil society sector.
In 2004, Eid founded the prominent and highly respected Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), a prominent and widely respected organisation which now hosts one of the most-visited websites on human rights in the Arab world. Thanks to the work of a small but dedicated group of employees, ANHRI provides essential legal support and representation for victims of violations of freedom of expression, organises trainings for journalists, campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience across the Middle East and North Africa, and educates the Egyptian public about their civil and human rights.
Over the 25 years Eid has worked as a human rights defender he has had to endure arrests and harassment, but the situation has further deteriorated under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's regime. As the Egyptian public resigns itself to living again in a militarily-controlled state that denigrates and represses much of what was celebrated and praised during the 2011 revolution, it has become all the more important to support and protect the few unwavering voices still standing their ground in the face of unprecedented oppression. Gamal Eid is one such voice that the authorities appear determined to extinguish.
Since the beginning of the year, Eid has been subjected to violation after violation of his rights and freedoms. On 4 February 2016, as he was about to embark on a flight to Athens, airport authorities informed him that his name had been place on the travel ban list. He was given no reason or explanation for the ban. On 19 March, a Cairo court moved to freeze his assets, along with those of his wife and 11-year-old daughter, and on 23 May he stood before three judges on charges of accepting foreign funding without authorization – charges that since an amendment to Egypt's penal code in 2014, can carry a penalty of life in prison. The trial had been postponed several times and finally held in September 2016. The court froze the assets of Eid and other human rights defenders.
"We have been targeted because our groups provide critical resources to those facing human rights abuses in Egypt. We have represented victims of torture from across the spectrum: Muslim Brotherhood members, liberals, leftists, victims of arbitrary arrest and even government supporters," wrote Eid in a recent article for The New York Times. "We have stood for the ideas that human rights belong to all, no matter their ideology, and that civil rights belong to all citizens, no matter their wealth or power."
It is impressive that, despite the levels of corruption that pervade many facets of Egyptian society, Eid remains committed to defending human rights in Egypt at a time when the el-Sisi regime is cracking down on all forms of dissent.
In 2011, ANHRI was awarded the Ronald Berger Human Dignity Award for its work promoting freedom of expression and the press in Egypt and Eid himself was awarded the Leaders for Democracy award by the Project of Middle East Democracy (POMED) for his inspiring activism.