Egypt Watch

The foolish authorities are squandering hope for politics in Egypt

Folly is increasing and accelerating. This is how analysts described the violations committed by the Egyptian authorities against the activities of politicians, journalists, human rights workers, and civil society that are not domesticated by government agencies.

The state security forces arrested journalist Rabie Al-Sheikh, Deputy News Sector at Al-Jazeera Mubasher, at Cairo Airport, while he was returning from Qatar last Monday to spend a working holiday and visit his sick mother, ignoring the improvement in relations between Egypt and Qatar. This was hours after Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi ratified Law No. 135 of 2021 regarding dismissal without a disciplinary method, and Civil Service Law No. 81 of 2016 for workers in the government and the public sector, all of those “on whom there were serious presumptions of committing what affects the country’s national security and safety, and who are listed on the lists of terrorist entities.” The Egyptian authorities continue to pursue journalists, as the first former editor-in-chief of a national newspaper Abdel Nasser Salama, former editor-in-chief of Al-Ahram newspaper, was arrested after calling on Sisi to leave, for his failure to negotiate with Ethiopia over Egypt’s historic rights to the Nile’s waters.

International newspapers condemned the arrest of the history researcher, Dr. Alia Muslim, upon her arrival from the German capital, Berlin, with her husband and children, her detention for days, and her treatment by the State Security Prosecution. The events clouded the optimism that at that time was spreading among Egyptians after the security authorities released six senior journalists and human rights activists, namely the sick veteran writer Jamal Al-Jamal, Mustafa Al-Asar, Moataz and Danan, Israa Abdel-Fattah, one of the founders of the April 6 Movement, lawyer Mahienour Al-Masry and Abdel Nasser Ismail, deputy head of the Popular Alliance Party.

The Supreme State Security Prosecution released dozens of prisoners on political charges, including the common charge to journalists and activists of “spreading false news” and “joining a terrorist group.” Experts point out that it is not that optimistic, because the regime still rules the state with an anarchic and barbaric system that destroys the structure of the modern state, disrupts laws, runs the country with exceptional laws, through which it controls public work and economic activity, prevents citizens from freedom of travel, shuts down websites, disrupts newspapers, and submits to civilians for military trials.

Experts show that the Sisi regime released some detainees before Eid Al-Adha, and with the start of the trip of the head of the General Intelligence Abbas Kamel to Washington in an attempt to obtain US support for the Egyptian position in the negotiations with Ethiopia on the Renaissance Dam, and to stop the measures taken by a number of Democratic representatives by denying Egypt of $300 million of the total US aid to the Egyptian army, which is estimated at about $1.3 billion, due to violations by the authorities in the field of human rights.

The Egyptian authorities also wanted to avoid another offensive campaign from human rights organisations and the European Union, by releasing activist Israa Abdel-Fattah, who has been held in pretrial detention for two years and had received the “valour award” for democracy from the International Movement for Democracy, days before her release.

Experts point out that the Egyptian regime has entered a state of political stagnation and inflexibility, which has left no solutions on the horizon for the political situation, and the possibility of a change or a breakthrough, due to the lack of a direct or indirect margin around the limits of repression and the decline in the role of state institutions and civil society in alleviating the limits of oppression that transcends all limits.

They are based on what happened with journalist Abdel Nasser Salama when he said, “Do it, President” and demanded Sisi step down. The regime succeeded in making citizens ready to coexist with the repression machine they have ruled since Sisi came to power and to believe beyond any doubt that the writer will meet his inevitable fate in prison, like the tens of thousands of others who are currently in prison, working their way through the endless pretrial detention mechanism, and the emergency Supreme State Security Court rulings.

Analysts consider it naive to talk about a change in Egyptian policies towards public freedoms or human rights activities, considering what exists in practice today, noting that the judiciary issued last May a verdict acquitting all the defendants in the foreign funding case, and preserved the investigation with 58 human rights institutions, and did not include the rights activists the government most fears.

Experts show that the Egyptian authorities aimed, in this ruling, to show their tolerance and lack of preoccupation with civil society by praising the role of some of these institutions and silencing the voices opposed to Egypt in the European Union. Human rights lawyer Gamal Eid states that the investigative judge in civil society case No. 173 opened 10 years ago ordered an investigation session with him and others, the same case in which the European Parliament and the US State Department demanded the Egyptian government to drop all charges with NGOs. She described them as “baseless accusations.”

The Egyptian authorities are placing Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer Negad Borai and other defendants in the case on a travel ban list, seizing their funds, and confiscating the headquarters of their activities. A recent report by the Carnegie Endowment on Civil Military Relations in Sisi’s Egypt asserts that Sisi “prefers to suppress the civilian masses rather than nurture them in his rule, to keep the military establishment happy to maintain his position, which in turn will shift power to the security sector and satisfy the military establishment’s growing appetite for resources and factions. It is a strong force within it, and the political stability that it values.”

In the face of this vision, it was not surprising that the Egyptian authorities released some detainees to satisfy international pressure and recycle some of them onto new cases, as happened with the Al-Amal group, in which six of its leaders were reimprisoned, and with the former parliamentarian and human rights lawyer Ziad Al-Alimi, and the Palestinian activist Rami.

The representative of the International Federation for the Boycott of Israeli Goods Produced in the Occupied Territories filed the same accusations, which they came out with, in a case on which they were imprisoned for two years and a month. It also pursued human rights activist Hossam Bahgat under the charges of foreign funding, which released him and three assistants from the Mada Masr website backed by the European Union and the Personal Rights Initiative after the US State Department warned against harming him after his arrest on July 14, 2021, for several hours.

The Egyptian authorities continue to detain Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, head of the Strong Egypt Party and the party’s Secretary General, Muhammad Al-Qassas, and the former colonel in the Egyptian army, engineer Yahya Hassan, founder of the Salvation Front that supports the regime, and thousands of detainees from the Brotherhood’s leaders and other political currents. Beyond any doubt the case will remain the same and it will prevail in Egypt indefinitely.