Political asylum: Fading tradition in Egypt

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Leaked news that Egypt’s new rulers have agreed with Libya’s new rulers to hand over about 1,800 Libyans, who worked with late President Moammar Qaddafi and who reside in Egypt, is disturbing news, which is abundant these days. Included in the group is Ahmad Kadaf al Dam,the coordinator of Egyptian-Libyan relations who played an important role in strengthening bilateral relations on the popular and official levels under the previous government. He was also among the Libyan forces that participated in the 1973 October War. Dam has been residing in Egypt since Tunisia’s revolution, upon an invitation by the then-Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmad Aboul Gheit.

A think tank in Washington revealed that there is a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Libyan authorities. The deal states that Egypt hands over Qaddafi’s men in exchange for securing oil investments in the eastern provinces in Libya. The suspicious deal is allegedly in exchange of three billion dollars and job opportunities for Egyptians in Libya. I tend to believe this piece of news because it has a well-founded basis. Around four months ago, I learnt of negotiations on the matter; the “bidding” began at 500 million dollars. At the time, I did not believe this information as I never thought that Egypt would reach this level, even when ruled by men whom I hold in disregard. But the recent news comes to confirm this fear. If they implement this deal, then they are really unaware of Egypt’s worth.

The history of refugees in Egypt

The value of states is measured by how much they retain their values. Part of Egypt’s value is that it has historically been a refuge for those seeking security. Perhaps the migration of Jesus and the Virgin Mary to Egypt to flee the Romans was the first trip of political asylum in history.

Pharanoic Egypt knew the asylum system in temples, castles and royal tombs considering that kings were gods or gods’ sons. Later, the religious basis of asylum took on a social impetus and defending it became similar to defending the honor of the group.

Muslim Arabs transferred to Egypt the traditions of the Arab peninsula and the rulings of Islam that state one should respect refuge and protect refugees. The transfer of these traditions and rulings left an influence on what the Egyptians consider today to be sanctity for places of worship and tombs of good people. Egyptians pride themselves on deeming Egypt a place which every distressed person can enter safely.

Arabs are also known for generosity, aiding the troubled, sheltering those seeking help and keeping their word. For the Arabs, attacking one refugee is considered an attack on the entire tribe which sought refuge. The Ka’aba had its sanctity ever since it was built. Islam later added to it a special sacredness to provide in it safety for runaways, unrighteous and repentant people. After the conquest of Mecca, the holy prophet made Ka’aba a haven to the infidels of Quraysh who wanted security (he who enters the Ka’aba is safe.) Islamic sharia even provided security for polytheists. These are the essentials which were the basis of the concept of refuge in Egypt’s values’ system.

The first Egyptian constitution prohibited handing over political refugees. This, later on, became a tradition in all Egyptian constitutions. The first refugees to Egypt in the twentieth century were some members from the family of Russia’s Czar who fled their home after the Bolshevik Revolution and requested political asylum to Egypt during the reign of Sultan Hussein in 1917.

Egypt opened its doors for everyone. Some of them returned to their countries to assume roles of authority like former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Chukri al Quwatli who fled to Egypt in 1950 and returned to Syria as president in 1954. The same goes for Habib Bourguiba who lived in Egypt for a long time during which he led the struggle against colonization. Men who were ousted from power also sought refuge in Egypt like former Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiri, Iran’s Shah, former Yemeni President Abdullah as Sallal and former Libyan King Idris Senussi.

Circumventing tradition

The Public Prosecution in Egypt announced forming a joint Egyptian-Libyan committee working under the direct supervision of the Libyan and Egyptian public prosecutors. The committee is tasked with “overcoming all legal obstacles” regarding the process of extradition. What is weird here is that the public prosecutor who protects justice and law is looking for means to overcome obstacles in order to hand over those who sought refuge in Egypt!

I will not speak of international agreements that forbid handing over refugees if there is a threat against them or a possibility that their lives are jeopardized. Based on that, Egypt’s extradition of refugees is considered an international crime. If this happens, it is enough to speak of the immoral aspect and the insult against Egypt’s values which the country acquired during its history and which is being lost by those who do not comprehend it for the sake of achieving a group’s aims and few dollars.