Egypt has created a human rights watchdog to protect the state from allegations of rights abuses and defend it on the international stage.
The creation of the High Permanent Commission for Human Rights comes at a time when Egypt has been under scrutiny over its poor human rights record.
The new body reflects an attitude of the state under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi that has perceived criticism over human rights as intended to undermine the government as it tries to rebuild the economy and carry out the so-called fight against “terror”.
Officials have already started a campaign against “false rumours” and “fake news” and have arrested some of those who speak out.
The government has also sought to redefine and broaden human rights, declaring new “rights” to combat “terrorism” and protect the state. Critics see it as an attempt at legitimising alleged abuses by security forces.
The body does not include any rights activists and its main members are representatives of the foreign ministry, military, intelligence agencies and the interior ministry, which oversees a police force accused of torture and forced disappearances by international human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.
The objectives of the agency, according to a statement, is to “respond to claims” made against Egypt’s human rights record and formulate a “unified Egyptian vision” to be stated in regional and international forums.
One key role will be to deal with the United Nations Human Rights Council, which is set to review the situation in Egypt in late 2019.
“This is a body that will seek to improve the image of the country, not actual human rights,” said Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer.
“Rather than fight the root causes of human rights violations, it has been customary for Egypt to set up committees to confuse the scene. Egyptian diplomacy has been effective at drawing attention away from violations.”
The state has since arrested thousands of dissidents, including activists and journalists, as well as Muslim Brotherhood supporters.
Human rights groups have also been critical of an Egyptian law that heavily regulates the operations of 47,000 non-governmental organisations and charities and of ongoing attacks against press freedom.
In a report last week, HRW said at least 40 rights lawyers and political activists have been arrested since October. The government has dismissed such reports, saying they are based on misinformation.