Al-Sisi calls upon the opposition for dialogue while issuing prison sentences against its symbols

Monday, the Nasr City Emergency Misdemeanor Court sentenced Yahya Hussein Abdel Hadi, the former spokesman for the Civil Democratic Movement (a political grouping of opposition parties and personalities), to 4 years in prison for “deliberately spreading false news inside and outside the country.”

This shocking ruling comes when President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi calls on the Egyptian opposition, led by the civil democratic movement, for a “national dialogue” to solve the country’s crises. At the same time, his policy of arrests, issuing politicized sentences against opponents and violating human rights continues without any change, which confirms that this dialogue is only a cartoon dialogue to occupy the public scene away from the severe economic crisis afflicting the country and people.

Knight of resistance against corruption

Yahya Hussein Abdel Hadi (68 years old) was born in Assiut Governorate in 1954. He obtained a Bachelor of Engineering from the Military Technical College in 1977 and served in the armed forces as an engineer officer until 1992. After he retired from military work, Abdel Hadi participated in the establishment of the Leaders Preparation Center for Business Administration, which was initially affiliated with the Prime Ministry, then transferred to the Ministry of Investment, and became director of the Center and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Investment in 2004.

Engineer Yahya became famous as “the knight of the public sector and resisting privatization” after he refused pressure from the former Minister of Investment, Mahmoud Mohieldin, to agree to sell the state-owned “Omar Effendi” company to Saudi investors at a low price, and launched a national campaign under the name “No to Sell Egypt” to refuse privatization. He also stood upright to the sale of the state-owned Cairo Bank and the sale of state lands to business people at low prices. Abdel Hadi joined the Kefaya movement, which opposed the rule of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Abdel Hadi was also known for his strong support for the January 25, 2011 revolution and his support for establishing a democratic civilian system.

Engineer Yahya rejected the agreement to cede the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia, which Sisi approved in 2016. This was his first real clash with the regime. After that, he issued directives to stop newspapers from publishing his articles, leaving him only a window on social media to express his views. In 2017, Abdel Hadi actively established the opposition Civil Democratic Movement, grouping several major opposition parties and public figures. He was chosen as an official spokesperson for the movement.

The regime began targeting Abdel Hadi directly in 2018 when he was arrested on charges of publishing an article that included “insulting the head of state, spreading false news and disturbing public peace” after he criticized Sisi’s statements about the January 25, 2011 revolution, but he was later released on bail. At the beginning of 2019, the National Security Forces (the Political Security Service of the Sisi regime) arrested Engineer Yahya. He was accused of “joining an illegal group, preparing and planning to commit violent acts, spreading false news about the political and economic conditions in the country, with the intent of disturbing public peace.”

Abd al-Hadi has been imprisoned since then until now (about three and a half years) without regard for the deterioration of his health or in response to pleas for his release. Although he was legally entitled to be released in January 2021, two years after his imprisonment, that did not happen, as the Supreme State Security Prosecution cloned, last October, from that case another one on the charge of “spreading false news” only, and decided to refer it accordingly to the Misdemeanor Court. Despite the various promises from the regime to consider releasing Abdel Hadi, this did not happen. Then came the shock when the Nasr City Misdemeanors Court issued an “emergency,” a superior court whose rulings may not be appealed, a four-year prison sentence against Engineer Yahya. There is currently no way for this ruling to be implemented except by the refusal of the President (or his authorized representative) to ratify it and send the case again for retrial or by issuing a presidential pardon.

Opposition denounces the sentence

Immediately after issuing the verdict against Abdel Hadi, politicians and public figures denounced him, considering that this verdict killed the national dialogue that Sisi had called for. How can the civil opposition sit with the regime while it issues unjust rulings against its leaders? The Civil Democratic Movement, for which Abdel Hadi was its spokesman, strongly criticized the ruling, considering it a “negative sign along with other signs, including the delay in the release of prisoners of conscience and what happened in the first phase elections of the trade unions” on the regime’s position on the national dialogue that it called for, calling for the need to drop the charges of spreading false news and the participation of terrorist groups about all prisoners of conscience and civil movement, and lifting restrictions on freedoms.

The civil movement affirmed that Yahya is “an example of patriotism, integrity and sincerity, and the knight of battles against corruption and defending public money”, that he was never a proponent of terrorism or enemies of the state, and that his trial was based on fabricated security reports. The Presidential Pardon Committee, which Sisi formed recently to facilitate the release of political detainees, said that it had contacted the Presidency of the Republic to implement the President’s constitutional powers to pardon Abdel Hadi and received a response to discuss his inclusion in the list of presidential pardons expected to be issued soon, without a firm commitment. This is an old habit of the Sisi regime, as it imprisons opponents for years without purpose, then issues a decision after pleas and deceptions to pardon them so that he appears as a reformer, but the truth is that he makes political detainees a card in his hand that he uses whenever he wants.