BBC recently reported on August 18th that the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi government, a military-installed leadership, has enforced legislation about “cybercrimes.” The law gives the government the power to block or shut websites they perceive to be a national security. Any website administrators that seem to be suspicious can be prosecuted. In addition, even visiting these websites can lead to fines, even prison.
According to the British news outlet, Human Rights Watch has warned in the past weeks that Egyptian authorities, led by Sisi, have been trying to tighten their grip on the country by arresting activists, journalists, and even members of the LGBTQ community via unjust state-of-emergency laws and counterterrorism policies. The new cyber security law will kill any remaining opportunities for Egyptians to seek political freedom – especially since protests are already prohibited.
The legislation is linked to a much larger phenomena happening in Egypt over the last years, and it’s responsible for leading the country further down a brutal and concerning authoritarian path. While Egypt has never been a free (or even nearly semi-democratic country) hope was lingering in 2011 of a new future, when the revolution erupted and ended what was around 40 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
However, Mohammed Morsi, the first elected civil president of Egypt, granted himself more power when elected and sidelined non-Islamists from the country’s leadership. His misguided choices caused yet another storm of protests in 2013, this time against the Muslim Brotherhood – which is considered to be the oldest and most powerful Islamic political party in Egypt specifically, and the Arab world in general, according to Al Jazeera. As a result, Morsi was toppled and created another wave of political instability with a vacuum that the military has exploited, but also used to further crack down on the freedoms and rights of the political dissents. Mr. Sisi, a high ranking military officer, subsequently became the de facto leader of the country. Ever since, he has committed most of his efforts to remain in power. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), president el-Sisi has allowed security forces and the police to implement unethical and inhuman torture methods, especially towards political detainees.
Last March, Mr. Sisi won a second term with 97 percent of the vote with a low turnout of 40 percent, according to The Guardian. Ironically, his only opponent, Moussa Moustafa Moussa, actually supported his reelection as well. Hamdeen Sabahi, a former two-time presidential candidate indicated to the London-based newspaper that Mr. Sisi was not interested in building a more open state than his predecessors. Quite the contrary, he explained that [he didn’t] think Sisi want[ed] any kind of real politics in Egypt,” adding that the Egyptian president “put politics and politicians under siege. He hates politics. He hates other opinions.”
The crackdown extends beyond political dissents and opposition groups, it includes any groups that the government perceives or promotes as a threat to society. The military dictatorship is lashing against any social groups that do not fit into its narrative. Last year for instance, the government arrested fans of Mashrou’ Leila, an alternative Lebanese band, at a Cairo concert for waving a rainbow flag. That simple act of defiance launched a brutal campaign that was seen as the worst set of arrests that the LBGTQ community has witnessed in Egypt, according to the Rolling Stone.
By pretending to increase the stability of the country and countering terrorism, the government has been violating countless human rights. Human Rights Watch has condemned the lack of accountability of the government towards its citizens and its allies. The organization also reported that there has been no investigation towards the crimes and killing of protesters in the 2013 protests which led to the removal of Morsi and believed to be planned by Sisi himself when he was defense minister at the time. While accurate data of the number of victims does not currently exist, HRW mentioned that at least 900 civilians were killed on August 14, 2013, by security forces and police in an attempt to stop the protests.
Moreover, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported in 2015 that living conditions and the “right to life witnessed horrible deterioration” after Sisi’s power takeover. The reports also stated that use of violence caused 2,600 deaths in 2013 and 2014 alone. According to Human Right Watch, the data includes “700 security personnel, 1,250 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood – and 550 other civilians.”
With countries like Yemen, Syria, and Libya are suffering from the consequences of devastating civil wars, it may be tempting to dismiss Egypt’s case for a global intent to harbor ‘stability,’ at least in some parts of the Middle East. It is also tempting to not hold Sisi accountable for his human abuses and increased oppressive measures by suggesting that this is better than in other Arab countries.
However, if nothing is to be done, Egypt will be forced into yet another collapse of its human rights record that led to the revolution in the first place. A solution to the current Egyptian issue is simple: the foreign powers, specifically the United States (U.S.) and the European nations, should enforce sanctions in order to tame Sisi and ensure he replaces his new authoritarian laws. Currently, the U.S. still gives aid to the Egyptian government regardless of its undemocratic ways. Only until last August has the U.S government denied Egypt some of its funds (estimated to be $95.7 million in aid and to delay an additional $195 million) even though it has known about its human rights abuses, according to Reuters.
As well, the United Nations must embrace a stronger role in Egypt to ensure that a moderate opposition survives Sisi’s crackdowns. While he may have won the recent election, the constitution still limits the number of terms he as a president can hold, according to Qatar’s Al Jazeera. Thus, Sisi’s next step is to enforce legislation that can undo all the laws that the 2011 revolution established, including the policies mentioned above.
It is truly unfortunate that developed countries are neglecting to look into Egypt’s situation and more than willing to maintain relationships with dictators in the Middle East, fully knowing the past consequences that these leaders had on the region as a whole.
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