Ivanka Trump, daughter of the US president and wife of Middle East “expert” Jared Kushner – he who has supposedly produced a Middle East “peace plan” to be revealed after Benjamin Netanyahu wins the Israeli elections – has just given her support to a regime which has locked up women political prisoners, “disappeared” others, and whose army forcibly carried out virginity tests on female protesters during the Tahrir Square revolution. Well, what more do you expect from the Trump menagerie?
Her tweeted praise, encouragement and support went to Egypt – and especially to its president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who gained a presidential victory last year with the support of 97.08 per cent of the Egyptian electorate. Ivanka obviously drew the necessary conclusions: this was a free and fair election and showed only how much President Sisi’s people loved him after his military coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2013. By extraordinary chance, the very same Sisi (just four days after Ivanka’s tweet) is in Washington today – yes, today: Tuesday – to meet with her father, Donald Trump.
And why should she not have tweeted forth, when she had read Sisi’s speech on Women’s Day, in which the Egyptian president promised to protect Egyptian women from physical violence, help them achieve “greater participation” in the labour market and “technological empowerment”. He ended with the words: “Egypt is in the process of building its renaissance and it is in need of the efforts of its daughters, side by side with its sons.”
And so say all of us. The Sisi speech was obviously good reading in the White House office where The Ivanka decides policy. It was, she enthused, “important” because it called “for major reforms aimed at empowering Egyptian women”. And she added: “We look forward to working with the Egyptian government to advance these efforts.”
She might have glanced at last year’s Human Rights Watch report on Egypt, which pointed out “the [Egyptian] government has failed to adequately protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence and, in some cases, even punished them for speaking out … On May 9, activist Amal Fathy posted a video on her Facebook page in which she … criticised the government’s failure to protect women. The next day, pro-government and state-owned media outlets initiated a smear campaign against Fathy and then on May 11 authorities arrested her.”
Six months ago, a Cairo criminal court sentenced her to two years imprisonment for “publishing false news”. Yes, I know Ivanka’s dad would like to clap his New York Times adversaries in the clink for just such crimes – but didn’t Ivanka read this disgraceful section of the report? Other women’s rights groups and their leaders – Mozn Hassan and Azza Soliman – await trial for their activism. Even the two-year-old laws against female genital mutilation do not adequately protect girls’ lives and health.
Note, of course, that Ivanka did not look forward to “working with the Egyptian government” to open its prisons and release the 60,000 political prisoners held there. But then again, why should she? Did Sisi not tell American television audiences two months ago that there were no political prisoners in Egypt?
No torture; no police beatings and no rapings in police cells; no sexual abuse of women prisoners. Nope. Not a smidgeon of information about 69 Egyptian women arrested because they had demonstrated peacefully or were women rights activists or wives of detainees. Not a word about more than 150 women on “terrorist lists” up to the end of last year, nor 500 Egyptian female students chucked out of their universities for political reasons. And no institutional memory on Ivanka’s part, no little history book recalling for her how Sisi’s army forcibly conducted virginity tests on young women during the Tahrir demonstrations in 2011.
At the time, CNN – that fake news network par excellence – carried an interview with an anonymous Egyptian general who excused the tests in these words: “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. We didn’t want them to say we had sexually assaulted them or raped them so we wanted to prove that they weren’t virgins in the first place. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square…” Amnesty International later found 18 young women who were threatened by the army with prostitution charges and forced to undergo virginity tests.
Video footage taken on mobile phones in December 2011 showed Egyptian military policemen assaulting a young women, half stripping her and dragging her across Tahrir Square before a soldier stamped on her breasts. She was left lying on her back wearing only jeans and a bra. The Egyptian army subsequently spoke only of “violations”. But one general told a news conference at the time “there were girls with young men in one tent. Is this rational? There were drugs; pay attention!”
No, I guess all this just slipped Ivanka’s attention. She certainly couldn’t blame Sisi for these little excesses. After all, he was only the head of the Egyptian army’s military intelligence at the time. But there you go. Trump says he thinks Sisi is doing “a fantastic job”, and when Sisi meets him in Washington today he will be discussing Egypt’s role as “a lynchpin of regional stability”. There is obviously no end to this pageant of praise.
Sisi and Trump, needless to say, feel themselves “empowered” – and they don’t need Ivanka to tell them.