Egypt’s Minister of Immigration and Expatriate Affairs Nabila Makram has told an audience in Mississauga, Ont., that anyone speaking “against Egypt abroad” will be “punished.”
A video of Makram’s comments last Sunday shows her making a slicing motion across her neck while making the remark.
The audience of mainly Egyptian expatriates responded to Makram’s words with laughter and applause.
Makram said in her talk, “We only have one country: Egypt … and we cannot bear any negative word about it abroad.”
The video has gone viral after independent Egyptian journalist Mohamed Nasr posted a copy of it on Twitter. Nasr says an anonymous source who attended the event sent him the clip.
Some Egyptians in Canada are incensed by Makram’s words, pointing to the current Egyptian regime’s human rights abuses against political dissidents, many of whom now live abroad, says Mohamed Kamel, co-founder of the Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy, an opposition group critical of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“We consider that a direct threat,” says Kamel. “We’re assuming that her comments were aimed at all Egyptians around the world.”
Human Rights Watch estimates 60,000 people have been arrested as political prisoners since el-Sisi came to power in 2013 through a coup.
Invited to Canada by Ontario legislator
Makram was invited to a flag-raising ceremony at Queen’s Park in Toronto on July 22 by Sheref Sabawy, the Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario Legislature for Mississauga-Erin Mills. Makram spoke at several Egyptian community events in Toronto and Montreal during her trip.
The Mississauga event was organized by the Canadian Egyptian Heritage Association (CEHA). Sabawy spoke at the gathering of about 300 people, which included Ahmed Abu Zeid, the Egyptian ambassador to Canada, and Hossam Muharram, the consulate general in Montreal. Neither responded to interview requests from CBC News as of Thursday afternoon.
Sabawy initiated a private member’s bill in May to designate July as Egyptian Heritage Month. The bill passed second reading in June, and Makram’s visit was organized to mark the occasion.
“Her remarks were completely take out of context,” Sabawy says. “It was like a minute of her entire speech and she was talking in Egyptian Arabic slang.”
“In a nutshell, she said, ‘We are all Egyptians,’ and it was a statement of unity,” he says. “Anyone who isn’t familiar with Egyptian slang may take her words too literally.”
A spokesperson for Peel Regional Police said Thursday the force “is aware of the comments and are looking into it.”
CEHA’s Albert Fahmy, who helped organized the event, also says that the minister’s words have been misinterpreted.
“I would like to highlight that my statement was not targeted at any ‘dissidents’, ‘opposition’ or ‘critics’ as has been reported in certain media outlets,” Makram writes in a Facebook statement addressing the incident. “Unfortunately, a number of media outlets have not only misinterpreted my statements but have also misrepresented them to their readers, falsely claiming that I support violence.”
‘I want to send a message’
But in an interview on Egypt’s Mehwar TV channel soon after the event, Makram took a more combative tone, saying, “I want to send a message to the Al Jazeera reporter in Canada, Mohamed Nasr, that Egypt will always prevail.”
Nasr, who first posted the video of Makram’s remarks, is not working for Al Jazeera.
“There’s no way that what she said was a joke,” Nasr says in an interview with CBC News, “because it’s someone that’s responsible and what she says reflects the situation in Egypt now, where there are around 100 journalists in prison.”
“What happened happened on Canadian soil, and the Canadian government should take a stand to show that this isn’t right and that they don’t accept these threats to Canadian nationals,” he says.