Bahey El Din Hassan is an Egyptian human rights activist who has worked tirelessly to promote human rights culture in his native Egypt and throughout the Arab world.
Prior to the Egyptian revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak’s government, Hassan, a professional journalist, was an ardent advocate for freedom of the press. Through this activism, he became more interested in the importance of educating others on human rights. In 1983, he joined the Arab Organization for Human Rights and two years later helped establish an offshoot group called the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). Over the years, the Egyptian government cracked down on EOHR’s work, arresting and torturing several of the organization’s members and stripping its status as a legally registered entity. Despite the threat of violence or arrest, Hassan and others helped EOHR to endure and continued to strengthen Egypt’s human rights movement.
In 1993, Hassan co-founded the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHRS), an independent NGO that promotes human rights and democracy in the Arab region. Today, Hassan serves as the Director of CIHRS. Through these various organizations, Hassan has played a role in educating a new generation of young Egyptians on the importance of embracing a universal code of human rights that encourages freedom and dignity for all people.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Hassan continues his efforts to strengthen human rights education in Egypt and the greater Arab world. Hassan argues that the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime was only the beginning, and that Egyptians must cultivate a democratic tradition, bolstered by a robust civil society, that respects human rights in order to be successful. As a journalist, lecturer, and author, Hassan educates audiences in the Middle East and North Africa on human rights, democratic transformation in the Arab world, and the challenges facing human rights defenders throughout the region.
When also I found that many of the leading youths of the revolution were students in the human rights courses of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, I feel very proud, and I think this is one of the main factors. And human rights culture, this was the main concern behind the foundation of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. And its first activity in July 1994 was a summer course for university students. And this was the only continuous activity every year.
So, before the revolution, we had 17 educational courses for university students. But beginning with 2005, we also added another human rights course for the young cadres of political parties, young cadres of the human rights or other civil society organization. So, I think that by focusing on the question of dissemination of human rights culture, this is also one of the added values which I am very proud of.
With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.
The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.
From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.
For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.
Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.
In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.
In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.