Egypt sees first open challenge to Sisi’s authoritarian rule


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A prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer stepped forward on Monday as a candidate in next year’s presidential election, emerging as the first open challenger to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s authoritarian rule after years of growing repression, The New York Times reports:

The lawyer, Khaled Ali (right) is not expected to pose a serious challenge to Mr. Sisi, whose crackdown on civil rights in Egypt has seen many of his opponents jailed, silenced or banished into exile. But Mr. Ali’s candidacy could offer a focus for criticism of Mr. Sisi at a time when he is grappling with a sharp economic downturn and a jolting surge in violent attacks by Islamists linked to the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

The governments of Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain have expressed “concern” to Egypt over the case of a detained human rights lawyer, the Associated Press adds:

In a rare public joint statement Friday, the countries urged Egyptian authorities “to ensure the freedom of civil society and the protection from torture that are enshrined in the Egyptian Constitution,” regarding the case of Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy [a prominent lawyer investigating the murder of Cambridge student Giulio Regeni , left.]

Metwally, a prominent rights lawyer who focused on the issue of forced disappearances, was himself arrested in secret on Sept. 10 at Cairo airport on his way to a U.N. meeting on the topic. Authorities only acknowledged his detention days later, and he remains in custody on charges of “spreading false news.” Metwally’s son disappeared during clashes at an Islamist protest in 2013.

Egypt’s authoritarian crackdown hasn’t helped in the fight against terrorism, according to Nancy Okail, executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, and Amr Kotb, the group’s advocacy director. Just like his predecessors, President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi has sought to address the symptoms of terrorism rather than its causes, they write for The Washington Post:

Scorched-earth tactics, such as the creation of buffer zones, the imposition of emergency law and curfews, and human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings and torture have allowed the government to exploit the so-called war on terrorism in the interest of cracking down on dissent. This, in turn, merely fuels extremist violence in the long term.

Historically, Egyptian leaders have often repeated the orientalist notion that Egyptians are somehow not “civilized” and politically incapable of living in a democracy, analyst Mariam Alba writes for Muftah:

This discourse is consistently disseminated by the country’s mass media, which is particularly focused on scapegoating working-class Egyptians. TV dramas, political talk shows, and advertisements reinforce the notion that average, working class Egyptians are uncivilized and need an authoritarian leader, in order to ensure stability in the country.

Egyptian authorities have in recent years arrested not just LGBT people but Islamists, secular activists, human rights workers, and journalists, among others, ABC News reports.

“It’s just one group after another,” said Michele Dunne, a senior fellow and director of the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace [and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group]. “The number of people in detention for political or civic activism of one kind or another is in the tens of thousands.”

A government-sponsored youth conference taking place in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh this week offered critics a new opportunity to criticize Mr. Sisi. Social media activists hijacked the conference hashtag, #WeNeedToTalk, to highlight the lack of freedoms in Egypt, The Times adds:

The slogan circulated alongside photographs of Egyptian security forces beating protesters, or images of pro-democracy activists like Alaa Abd el Fattah, who has been in prison since 2013. Some focused their ire on the actress Helen Hunt who addressed the conference on Sunday, accusing her of legitimizing Mr. Sisi’s rule.

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