Cyber spies target Egyptian rights activists


American-Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy is one of many activists and human rights advocates targeted in a sweeping cyber-espionage campaign blamed on Egypt’s government, The Associated Press has found:

A booby-trapped email sent to Eltahawy and examined by the AP shows that she was targeted by the same password-stealing technique used to try to compromise staff at more than half a dozen Egyptian human rights organizations. Digital clues such as matching email addresses employed to send the malicious messages and the use of the same credential-harvesting website proved the same actor was involved.

Human rights groups are protesting at travel ban on Negad El Borai (above left), prominent human rights lawyer and director of the United Group for Law, who was prevented from traveling to Jordan on the basis of his involvement in the “foreign funding” case.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership between World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Front Line Defenders urged the Egyptian authorities to lift urgently and unconditionally the travel ban imposed on Negad El Borai and other human rights defenders facing travel restrictions as well as to guarantee that all human rights defenders can carry on their activities without fear and restrictions.

Egyptian police last week forced the closure of the Al Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, an organization that treats victims of torture and violence, in the latest escalation of a harsh government crackdown against human rights defenders and civil liberties groups.

On Sunday, February 12, 2017, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies called on the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC), requesting the council to suspend enforcement of the 1914 Assembly Law – a British colonial law officially nullified 89 years ago – which it described as “a flagrant infringement upon the fundamental precepts of justice, equity, and the rule of law.”

A lawsuit filed on January 31st by CIHRS and 23 prominent lawyers, rights defenders, and political figures, seeks the Assembly Law’s suspension and the publication of its repeal in the Official Gazette, CIHRS adds:

The lawsuit is based on the CIHRS report, Toward the Emancipation of Egypt, which documents how, throughout decades and until the present day, successive post-independence Egyptian governments have exploited the Assembly Law as the legal foundation for the incarceration and extrajudicial execution of tens of thousands of Egyptian citizens – simply for exercising their fundamental democratic right of peaceful assembly.

The authorities should also drop charges against 26 labor activists charged in connection with peaceful strikes and protests, Human Rights Watch said. The parliament should revise a new trade unions draft law to fully legalize independent unions and amend penal code provisions that criminalize the right to organize and strike:

Kamal Abbas, head of the independent Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services (CTUWS), told Human Rights Watch that the government-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation (ETUF) sent a letter to the administration of the Suez oil products factory saying that the independent workers’ union, which had signed two collective bargaining agreements with administrators in 2012 and 2015, was illegal. The IFFCO Independent Workers’ Union could be shut down as a result.

The crackdown has been going on for some time now, yet the new NGO law is alarming to anyone interested in Egypt’s stability. But the death of Egyptian civil society is not a fait accompli, Hussein Baoumi writes for the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy:

  • First, the international community must support civil society, through flexible funding arrangements. This would enable the civil society to survive and continue operating, albeit at decreased capacity under a repressive regime.
  • Second, the World Bank must require civil society involvement in Egypt’s developmental activities in any agreement with Egypt, as civil society organizations are vital to development projects in aid, especially in the fields of health, education, and poverty alleviation. …
  • Third, national donors must link human rights and democracy benchmarks with disbursing aid and cooperation agreements with Egypt. Both the United States and European Union have issued statements on this point, but it remains to be seen if they are going to follow through.

Since assuming power through a military coup three years ago, President Sisi “has overseen not only the complete reversal of Egypt’s nascent democratic transition but also unprecedented human rights abuses,” according to a letter signed by Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Elliott Abrams of the Council on Foreign Relations, Neil Hicks of Human Rights First, and Stephen McInerny of the Project on Middle East Democracy, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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