Egypt ‘significantly escalates’ civil society crackdown


Egypt expanded its crackdown on human rights organizations Tuesday, raiding a center that treats victims of violence and attempting to shut it down. This time, however, the government backed down, retreating from the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence after staff members refused to comply with orders to leave, The Los Angeles Times reports:

A report issued by El Nadeem in January said that 474 people had died in police custody in 2015. Another report issued by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms documented 340 cases of enforced disappearances between August and November. While acknowledging cases of disappearances, Egypt’s Interior Ministry disputed that figure. A joint statement issued by 17 Egyptian rights organizations on March 21 condemned what it called the “orchestrated and escalating assault against Egyptian civil society.”

Hossam Bahgat (right), founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, have both been questioned, barred from traveling and had their personal assets frozen.

The move is the latest blow to human rights in the Arab world’s most populous country, where torture has come under the international spotlight after Italian student Giulio Regeni was brutally killed in January amid speculation that Egypt’s security forces were involved, AP adds.

Egyptian authorities’ campaign against human rights defenders in the country “significantly escalated” during the month of March, according to the Cairo-based NGO Arabic Network for Human Rights Information’s monthly report, released on Wednesday:

March also witnessed 20 cases of violations against media freedoms, including one publication ban, one coverage ban and a number of administrative sanctions against independent media. Violations of media freedoms decreased by one case, as compared to ANHRI’s February report that registered 21 instances of media freedom violations.

While some observers believe the current repression is worse than under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, one leading analyst is skeptical that a major ‘upheaval’ is likely.

Political scientist and activist Amr Hamzawy (left) is “inclined to think that a major period of upheaval in the history of a nation will not be repeated.”

“But the situation that triggered it in Egypt is similar or even worse: the serious human rights violations, the bleak social perspectives, the huge gap between rich and poor, the corruption,” he tells

The difference is that in 2011, people were not afraid to take to the streets. Opposition figures were also more credible back then. It’s a very different picture today. The Egyptians fear for their security, on a regional level too. This prevents them from taking to the streets. But if the Sisi regime doesn’t manage to introduce reforms and create social justice, then it won’t be able to retain power in the long-term.

According to Egyptian daily Mada Masr, an anonymous Egyptian source sent an email to Italian newspaper La Repubblica claiming that Italian Ph.D student Regeni (right) was tortured and killed by Egyptian Military Intelligence for failing to answer questions relating to his academic research on labor unions…. Mada Masr notes that an almost identical statement was published [Ar] by former police officer Omar Afify on his personal Facebook page in February. This email comes as the Egyptian delegation is headed to Rome to hand over the latest findings on the murder of Regeni to Italian officials, notes the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED).

But Egypt has postponed the meeting at which a Cairo delegation was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of Regeni, The Guardian adds.

In rare cases, Egypt has pointed a finger of blame at an official within the state following a high-profile murder or other controversial case, but in those instances the sentences are usually short or commuted, according to Michele Dunne, director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington:

Dunne said the Regeni case was being closely followed in the US capital, and it was believed that human rights issues were raised at a recent meeting between John Kerry, the US secretary of state, and Egypt’s foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry.

“It depends at the end of the day how persistent Italy will be in this and whether others raise the case, whether they [Egypt] have to call someone to account. But the history of these things is that normally there isn’t really transparency at the end of the day,” said Dunne (left), a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy​.

For more than thirty years, Egypt was an anchor of stability and a reliable American partner in regional security, notes Tamara Wittes, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy:

From the time Sadat expelled Soviet advisers and broached peace with Israel, ties with Egypt have been a core pillar of American Middle East policy. But, as my colleague Steven Cook presciently noted way back in February 2012, Egypt’s revolution accelerated the launch of what he calls a “long goodbye” between these two formerly indispensable partners. He argued back then that shifting from a “special relationship” to something more transaction would have four concrete benefits for Washington:

Wittes was among the signers of a letter critical of the Sisi regime’s human rights record published by the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED),a partner of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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