The case of the well respected leader, teacher, dedicated humanitarian and South African citizen- Sheikh Abdul Salam Jad Bassiouni, has been in the mainstream media recently. When such a well-known and widely loved public figure such as Bassiouni is arbitrarily held in one of the most notoriously harsh prisons on the continent, it is undoubtedly going to arouse many emotions and sentiments. This is indisputably a case that plays on the heart strings of many people, not excluding the thousands of South African lives Bassiouni has touched and changed through his 20 years of humanitarian aid and commitment to the local inhabitants of our country. However, an aspect which cannot be ignored is the extremely dangerous and unsettling precedents the Sheikh’s imprisonment has set for South Africa.
With reluctance from government and the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO), Bassiouni -being a South African citizen for the past 20 years, has displayed a reality that it is unsafe for any South African citizen to travel to Egypt. Arbitrary detention without charges; incarceration in an infamous prison where access to chronic life-saving medication is denied; and family contact and communication being limited to an absolute minimum…all while complete abandonment by your government, awaits you. Regardless of your proven political affiliations or ties, evidently if you have a name that’s an anomaly to South Africa, and you bear an interest in the sphinx, you could have yourself a one way ticket to custody.
The case of Sheikh Bassiouni must lead us to question why our foreign policy ethos towards human rights is being ignored, and apparently undermined. That too- by giving legitimacy to the Sisi regime! A power that only came to rule through a military coup by all definitions and standards. In the light of South Africa’s contemporary social and political atmosphere, I, a citizen of this beautiful land, have reached my threshold of exhibiting bewilderment, while I try to rationalize the image of South Africa through our definition of the “rainbow nation”. Are we no longer the watchdogs of human right violations? This beautiful concept of Freedom that Madiba and his comrades left to us as our legacy is at threat. Our naivety to conform to global neo-liberal politics means that collectively we’re guilty for displaying ourselves as a “hypocritical democracy”. The paradox? Where separate standards of freedom and human rights apply to separate groups of people.
Unfortunately, even if you’re of the calibre of Sheikh Bassiouni- a man who has dedicated his life to serving others; if the upholding of your freedoms doesn’t fit into the paradigm of modern democracies, and your low degree of interest towards the few who can offer optimal financial and political gains to the ‘democracy’ in power, your freedom means less.
It is a dismal state of affairs that Sheikh Bassiouni has become but an example to the most unfair and tyrannical misdeed- injustice. He has become a harsh reminder to all of us- traveling to Egypt at this time can very possibly lead to the abolition of all of one’s basic human rights.
Dr Aayesha J Soni
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