By Mick Krever, CNN
The arrest and sentencing to 11 years in prison of 21 young women at a Muslim Brotherhood protest was designed to send a single message, says Human Rights Watch: “stop protesting.”
“These women were peacefully protesting and have been sentenced to this disproportionately high and crazy sentence,” Heba Morayef, director of the Middle East and North Africa Division for Human Rights Watch, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
“To put it into perspective, one of the only police officers sentenced for killing protesters was given three years,” she said. “The message there is that it doesn't matter if they're women; it doesn't matter if they are young – we will sentence protesters.”
Egyptian prosecutors on Thursday laid their first charges under new laws outlawing protest “resisting authorities,” against leading political activist Ahmed Maher.
The Egyptian Ministry of Interior has made it its goal over the past few weeks to shut down all activism and protest.
A new draft constitution of Egypt was completed by a 50-member committee on Sunday; it will soon head to interim President Adly Mansour, who is expected to approve it, and then go to a popular referendum.
The document, Morayef said, does include some improvements on the constitution passed last year under the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated government of Mohamed Morsy.
“That constitution allowed language on public morality – on Sharia – to override every single right in the document,” she said.
In the new constitution there are “better protections for women’s rights” and direct references to “international human rights law.”
At the end of the day, though, “the constitution is only ever a document.”
“Mubarak's constitution had some decent rights protections in it, but those protections were never really implemented because so much was left to legislation.”
This proposed constitution includes further protections for the military, and would, among other things, allow of military trials of civilians accused of “direct attacks” on the armed forces.
The document does nothing to help the “situation of extreme polarizing” in Egypt, she said, and the security forces that “are abusive and act with impunity.”
Despite on-going protests, Egypt has seen relative calm of late, especially when compared to the chaos that the country saw in August.
Over the course of just a few days in mid-August about 1,000 protestors died.
“The problem is that everybody seems to have forgotten about the massacres of the summer,” Morayef said.
The international community, instead of talking about “the need for accountability” and “rule of law,” she said, is emphasizing only the “road map” towards elections to replace the current interim government.
“I'm not hearing specific language about the political rights of the Brotherhood; nor am I hearing anything about reining in the security services, which, to me, is the most destabilizing feature of the current situation we're in in Egypt.”
Sooner or later, she said, the government and military will need to reconcile with the Brotherhood.
“You can't arrest every single Brotherhood member and you can't actually destroy the Brotherhood as an idea or as a group,” she said. “So sooner or later, the state needs to recognize that and to attempt to at least reach some kind of negotiated agreement with the Brotherhood.”