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  • Writer's pictureHind Elhinnawy

In Egypt: If you dare to speak …

Updated: Nov 12, 2021


[1]. A week later, about 70 Egyptian citizens have reportedly been arrested for taking part in small and scattered anti-government protests inspired by the deadly train crash[2].

Around a few weeks week ago, a pharmacist named Ahmed Mohie was arrested in Cairo’s Tahrir Square after calling on President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi to resign. The man, who was protesting on his own, was filmed being led away by police[3].

Since the Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ‘won’ a second term in March 2018 in ‘unfree’ and ‘unfair’ elections, his security forces ignited a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arrests against political opponents, civil society activists, writers, intellectuals, and critical media that have voiced criticism against him or his government[4]. The authorities have arrested at least 50 peaceful political activists, blocked at least 62 websites, and opened criminal prosecutions against every presidential candidate who dared to run against Sisi[5].

Sisi and his government have claimed they are protecting the country from the Muslim Brotherhood and extremism, but the reality is that everybody is being targeted, not only radical Islamists[6]. In fact, anyone who dares to speak against the regime is targeted. “Egyptian authorities are using the pretext of fighting terrorism to crush peaceful dissent,” said Joe Stark, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch[7].

Now, Sisi is leading Egypt into even more dangerous grounds by pushing for constitutional changes that will significantly consolidation of his authority and powers. The proposed amendments would enable him to stay in power until 2034. They would give him direct control over the judiciary’s top appointments and its budget[8]. And they would grant the Armed Forces the power to intervene in domestic politics with military courts allowed wider jurisdiction in trying civilians.’

At present, the country has become among the top jailers of journalists, activists, as well as any citizen who simply has the nerves to criticize. In October 2018, police and National Security Agency (NSA) forces have conducted a mass arrest campaign; around 40 human rights workers, lawyers, and political activists, Human Rights Watch said[9], among which are Hoda Abdel Moneim, a 60-year-old lawyer and a former member of the official National Council for Human Rights, and Mohamed Abu Hourayra, the former spokesperson for Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms.

Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian activist, and blogger known for documenting alleged abuses by the security forces has been detained in 2018. Armed forces raided his house in Cairo overnight and took him away blindfolded to an unknown location. A report cited security officials claiming he was suspected of spreading false news and joining a banned group[10]. After seven months in custody, Wael was released on probation terms that included registering at a police station twice a week[11]. Until present, no strong evidence is presented to the courts to prove these allegations.

In a ‘state-of-the-art’ trend of repressing any opposing voice, the Egyptian armed forces are sending direct threats to public personalities and accusing them of spreading rumors. This has compelled many to flee the country. This trend started in 2014 with Bassem Youssef, a prominent comedian known as the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”[12]. Prodding fun at the leaders of the military, Bassem’s broadcasts were frequently jammed and threatened with lawsuits. In 2014, his show was terminated, and he was ordered to pay more than $10 million in penalty over the content of his show. Fearing for the safety of his family, Youssef fled his homeland. In just 90 minutes, he packed two bags and friends drove him to the airport where he traveled to Dubai, New England until he finally settled in the United States, with an unclear future[13].

Amr Waked, an international film, television and stage actor, was recently sentenced to eight years in absentia for ‘insulting state’, and ‘spreading false news’[14]. I am abroad. They told me that if I return to Egypt, I will face consequences and that everything is ready for ratification by a pen. And, honestly, I believe them,” Waked said in one of his tweets[15]. He explained to ‘Mada Masr’ that his earlier silence was in hopes that the situation would change. He has finally decided to publicize his case because he no longer has hope that “the dark situation will be lifted, and our rights will be granted”[16]

Last week, both Amr Waked and Khaled Aboul Naga, an Egyptian actor, spoke out against Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi at a Capitol Hill event in Washington, drawing attention to the proposed constitutional amendments. The following day, they found out that they were expelled from the Egyptian actors’ union, which accused them of treason. Aboul Naga says to Washington post: “The wording is ridiculous. It’s judging us of great treason. It goes on as if it’s a court ruling. As if they’re taking not only our syndicate membership but also our nationalities. The wording is so strange.”[17]

Khaled Youssef, a film director and member of parliament, says the regime has engineered a sex scandal to punish him after he opposed President Sisi’s bid to extend his term in office in the latest proposed constitutional amendments. Khaled says he is suffering a “moral assassination campaign” after two explicit videos in which he allegedly appears were leaked online. Fellow opposition MP Haitham al-Hariri was also subject to a leak after he said the proposed constitutional changes would lead to an “authoritarian, despotic regime”[18]. Khaled is in Paris now. It is yet to know whether he will be able to return or not, especially after his latest appearance in a program on BBC Arabic saying that regimes oppressive measures are a testimony of looming its end.

In 2016, an Egyptian court sentenced two opposition broadcasters, Mohammed Nasser and Maataz Matar, to two years in absentia, also, for “inciting and spreading rumors against the armed forces” and “insulting and ridiculing the country’s president”[19]. Moataz, who works for the Turkey-based Egyptian opposition al-Shark TV channel, had helped launch a campaign voicing discontent with the regime and the president. Last week, he said eight of his family members, including four children, went missing in Cairo. The alleged disappearance occurred a day after security forces raided and searched the home of his 66-year-old mother at dawn[20].

Belal Fadl, a columnist, and screenwriter; Alaa Al-Aswany, a novelist and political commentator; Hesham Abdel-Hamid, an actor; all fled Egypt without saying a word. And the list of forced exile goes on and on. Does the president really believe that through repression and draconian laws he can get what he wants–namely staying in power! Actually, he is facilitating a more violent opposition against him. Eight years after the Egyptian revolution, an anniversary of a historic uprising that bears little cause for celebrating as Sisi has continued Murabak’s legacy of repression, maybe even worse. Eight years after a revolution that sought greater freedom for people following decades of repression, the country is back in the hands of an autocratic regime, facing a deteriorating human rights crisis.

Before I left Egypt in 2016, I traveled around Cairo for a final tour, realizing how much I will miss my warm-hearted, chaotic, rich in spirit homeland. I kept wondering what lies ahead if Egypt could not steer a passage towards real democracy and freedom of speech? How long will it take before all the repression backfires again? With the weight of an economic disorder, social and political repression, how long will it take? I miss my Egypt, my homeland!

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