Egypt: President Sisi in a Crusader Fight with a Generation

In Opinion Articles by CIHRS

By Karim Lahidji[1]
This post was coauthored by Bahey eldin Hassan, Director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

p25_20140801_pic1The international community’s support given to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime is primarily based on the notion that his regime maintains stability in the country. President Sisi keeps assuring that he is leading a successful war on terrorism; however the country is facing more security threats and instability than it did in 2013.

Terrorist attacks have intensified to an average of over 100 per month in 2015, compared to 30 attacks per month in 2014. The attacks have also spread from Sinai to other cities including Cairo. In addition to documented testimonies of theongoing radicalization taking place inside Egyptian prisons, other testimonies, such as the one given by a leader of a prominent Sinai tribe, describes how the regime’s policy is turning the Muslim Brotherhood into a recruitment pool for ISIS.

Moreover, the claimed counterterrorism efforts are deliberately targeting the wrong groups: the regime’s security resources are fully occupied, not with combating terrorism, but with combating the opposition. The crucial role played by independent civil society in the revolution and its aftermath have made it a threat to a regime that rules with unchecked powers.

In January 2016, a security source admitted that the primary targets of raiding 5,000 apartments in downtown Cairo, were pro-democracy young activists. Secular peaceful activists are sentenced on charges ranging from illegal protest or belonging to a terrorist organization to threatening public peace and security. Some are held in pre-trial detention for years, without being charged or seeing a judge.

Through the unprecedented crackdown Egypt is witnessing, the regime, with all its apparatuses, is penalizing all forms of peaceful dissent and gradually shutting down public space in Egypt. Secular youth activists, protesters, members, supporters, or alleged supports of the Muslim Brotherhood, human rights defenders, journalists and average apolitical citizens, are currently languishing behind bars under inhumane conditions.

Thousands of persons have been sentenced, including death sentences, in kangaroo courts under laws that not only violate Egypt’s international human rights obligations but also the 2014 Egyptian constitution. The judiciary has played an instrumental role in sustaining this injustice where it has failed to guarantee the basic rights of fair trial and due process. Civilians continue to be tried before military courts, in violation of international human rights law.

Just in November 2015, several dozen cases of torture in detention were reported, yet the Public Prosecution is not eager to prosecute police officers as it does with peaceful protesters such as Mahineour Al-Massry, secular bloggers like Alaa Abdel Fattah, and journalists like Mahmoud abu Zeid ‘Shawkan’.

Between August and November 2015, 340 cases of enforced disappearances were reported; the majority of them were students. They are usually tortured into signing confessions before they “appear” at the Public Prosecution; such as a 14-year-old boy who was raped in detention by Egyptian National Security agents. Islam Khalil, who was also disappeared, unveiled in his letter from prison the gruesome reality of the torture chambers in the Ministry of Interior where the prisoners “are just numbers and corpses.”

The grim reality of Egypt’s full prisons was not resolved by President Sisi’s pardon of 100 persons in September 2015. Obviously, the pardoning of arbitrarily-detained persons comes only as a publicity stunt to please the international community, not as a genuine political will to empty Egypt’s prisons of wrongfully-imprisoned persons. Despite President Sisi’s acknowledgement that there are innocent people behind bars in Egypt, the regime refuses to provide an accurate figure of political detainees in Egypt, but human rights monitors suggest that it exceeds 100,000 detainees at the moment.

Despite the claims of President Sisi that Egypt is witnessing an unprecedented climate of free speech, the current regime has become more repressive than its predecessors whereas it does not tolerate any form of dissent or challenge of the official narrative. At least 23 journalists are currently imprisoned making Egypt now the second worst country jailer of journalists worldwide.

These policies have led to a total erosion of confidence in the State and the rule of law.

Public figures that criticize the regime are prevented from appearing on TV talk-shows, holding public talks, and getting published in newspapers. The country is also witnessing a wave of labor strikes across the country demanding higher wages. Civil society organizations continue to work in an increasingly shrinking space where human rights organizations face smearing campaigns by the pro-government media, ongoing investigations over foreign funding, and travel bans against human rights defenders.

Between June 2012 and December 2015, the consecutive Egyptian presidents have ruled the country without a legislative body in place. During this time, the executive has issued a vast number of laws, some in flagrant violation of the 2014 constitution. Since, the newly elected parliament has been approving laws by the dozens in mere hours, including draconian ones such as the counterterrorism law,failing to undo the damage and provide a much needed checks-and-balances against the executive.

Several reports (including one by a former adviser to Presdident Al Sisi, Hazem Abdelaziz) have stated that the security apparatus has directly intervened in the engineering of the Parliament.

The regime is also seeking to appear as the “guardian of morality” over Egyptian society. While homosexuality is not illegal under Egyptian law, the judiciary uses charges such as prostitution or debauchery to sentence “suspected” LGBT persons, who are arrested by the police in house raids, or through online dating applications.

The “guardianship of morality” has extended to artists as well. Writer Ahmed Najiand his publisher Tareq Al-Taher published a chapter of Naji’s fictional novel in a literary magazine, which the Prosecution argued that it included “immoral sexual content that violates public decency”.

Despite the election of a reportedly high number of women in the Parliament, the adoption of a national strategy for combating violence against women and amendments to the penal code on sexual harassment, there remains a huge discrimination against women in law and practice.

Violence against women remains widespread in public and private spheres. Sexual violence continues to be used by security forces “Guardians of Morality” against women and men as a means of intimidation. However, no case has been brought before justice or even investigated.

The regime’s oppressing of peaceful secular activists, peaceful Islamists, and apolitical citizens, as well as closing down legitimate political channels and cultural spaces, is fueling radicalization in Egypt and further complicates the fight against terrorism, leaving very little room for the prospect of long term stability.

In order to address the regime’s counterproductive measures leading to mass radicalization and instability, the international community must pressure President Sisi to immediately put an end to the ongoing human rights violations. As President Sisi travels to EU capitals, EU leaders should make it a priority to raise human rights issues with him, publicly and privately, and require the immediate release of those detained for exercising their fundamental human rights.

The lucrative business deals, including arms sales, that the Egyptian government signs with EU-based companies should not make the leaders turn a blind eye to the regime’s dismal human rights record. The EU and the US must ensure that the arms sold are used to fight terrorism, not to repress the people, peaceful dissent and activists and should include human rights protection as a bargaining chip for economic deals, and start implementing “less for less” approach with the Egyptian regime.

[1] President of FIDH since May 2013. Prominent human rights defender and lawyer from Iran

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