OPINION by Iqbal Jassat
Is the Ministry of International Relations (DIRCO) and by extension the ANC-led government guilty of shunning constitutional obligations which require protecting the rights of a South African citizen detained without charge in Egypt? Neither DIRCO nor the Presidency will concede any guilt.
Conversely they will argue as they have been doing thus far, that as the person who is incarcerated by Egypt’s coup regime is a dual citizen of Egypt and South Africa, they cannot do much. The matter I refer to is the tragedy confronting the Bassiouni family, whose husband and father Sheik Abdus Salaam Bassiouni is languishing in Cairo’s notorious Torah prison since the beginning of December 2014.
Why is he held? What crime has he committed? Why hasn’t he been brought before any court to face charges? How long will he be held? These are some of the questions that have caused great anxiety and sleepless nights for his family who are Lenasia residents.
Though DIRCO has on occasion, during the last six months spoken to the media and offered its view, it has been unduly pessimistic. Saying that it’s hands are tied and shielding behind vague references to Egypt’s citizenship rules, cannot but be interpreted as having given up.
In the wake of the Omar al Bashir saga which saw the government ignoring a court order and the resultant controversy which has taken on a global form, its unlikely that we will be told what prevents movement to secure Bassiouni’s release.
As for our position in the Media Review Network, we do not believe, nor do we accept that our government can simply turn its back and walk away.
That our diplomatic mission in Cairo hasn’t yet managed to gain consular access, let alone provide consular assistance, is extremely unsettling.
Neither DIRCO nor our Embassy in Egypt can claim that they are unaware of Bassiouni’s deteriorating health. Yet remaining aloof and uncaring – this is the public perception of the Ministry of International Relations – suggests that Egypt’s clandestine narrative has been bought by South Africa.
The only hint we have of this is that Egypt suspects Bassiouni to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is ridiculous and quite bizarre. The Muslim Brotherhood emerged victorious in Egypt’s first and only democratic elections following a popular revolt which saw the removal of Hosni Mubarak and an end of decades of tyranny.
Of course change to democratic rule didn’t last long. A military coup led by the current dictator General Abdel Fatah al Sisi put an end to it and reintroduced Marshall Law.
All the gains made during the flowering of the Arab Spring evaporated as Sisi and his goons began a campaign of mass arrests, life long jail terms, executions, bannings, violent attacks on protesters, gang rapes and worse.
And sadly people such as Bassiouni are targeted for no just reason and held as political prisoners without due process.
Sisi may have secured some or other discreet arrangement with the African Union to adorn his coup as “democratic” and thus gain readmission to the AU club.
And the possibility of some sinister “deal” with South Africa may be the only explanation for DIRCO’s lackluster approach to secure the freedom of Bassiouni.
Iqbal Jassat is the executive chairperson of the Media Review Network, a think-tank based in Johannesburg. Visit their website www.mediareviewnet.com