Mona Seif, an Egyptian rights activist, issued a response on Thursday to critics who maintain that Ms. Seif’s anti-Israel position should disqualify her from consideration for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA).
Ms. Seif was nominated last week by a jury comprised of Human Rights Watch and nine other NGOs, based on her work to end military trials for civilians in Egypt through the campaign No Military Trials for Civilians.
In 2011, during the Egyptian protests that eventually led to the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Seif also attracted international attention by using social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to provide the world with swift coverage on events directly from Tahrir Square, where she and her family spent ten days protesting.
However, Seif’s use of social media, in particular Twitter, has also given her a worldwide platform to express ideas that are not so human-rights-oriented. Just days after she was nominated for the Martin Ennals Award, U.N. Watch, an non-governmental organization affiliated with the American Jewish Committee, whose mandate is to monitor global organizations for prejudice against Israel, asked members of the MEA jury to “withdraw Ms. Seif’s nomination” because of a series of anti-Israel tweets that the group branded as “public advocacy of violence against civilians, terrorism and war crimes.”
Ms. Seif responded to these outcries by writing on Thursday:“One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.”
Her statement is not incorrect, nor can it be disputed. Ms. Seif does have the right to “insult anyone whose policies are bad" for her people. However, as a public figure who fights for human rights, she must remember that her words carry both influence and consequences.
Her praise of the use of sabotage against an Egyptian pipeline bringing gas to Israel and her cheering for the burning of an Israeli flag pulled from Israel’s besieged embassy in Cairo do not violate any law — indeed, they are expressions of her freedom. However, they do explicitly condone violence and hatred. By rewarding a person with a pattern and a practice of publicly inciting violence, the award’s jury would be dishonoring and indeed discrediting the idea of human rights.
Ms. Seif did play a critical role throughout the Arab Spring and beyond in seeking to bring democracy and human rights to Egypt. However, much of her work has stopped at the Egyptian borders. Her humanitarian views do not expand past borders to encompass humankind. So how can an organization that claims to stand up for human rights justify supporting an actor preoccupied by geographical borders?
Human-rights organizations should be at the forefront of advancing egalitarian ideals. This means withholding international human rights awards from activists, like Ms. Seif, who have publicly voiced blatantly violent views.