Six years after the Arab Spring, Egypt’s democracy activists live under constant threat of prison — or worse, notes analyst Joshua Hammer.
It was just six years ago that Ahmed Maher (left) was celebrated around the world as a symbol of freedom and democracy. In January 2011, as the leader of a social-media-savvy network of young activists called the April 6 Youth Movement, Maher mobilized hundreds of thousands of Egyptians in demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and across the country that took down President Hosni Mubarak, he writes for The New York Times Magazine:
But the hopes that were raised by the revolution dissolved into sectarianism and chaos, and Maher’s aspirations were extinguished within two years. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the defense minister and commander in chief of the armed forces, seized power in July 2013 and outlawed protests. Five months later, a judge found Maher guilty of illegal demonstration, rioting and “thuggery” and sentenced him to three years in jail. Another judge added six months to Maher’s sentence for “verbally assaulting a public officer while on duty” after he demanded that the police remove his handcuffs while in court for a 2014 appeal. Maher spent almost all of that period sealed in a small cell in a solitary-confinement wing at Tora Prison, a notorious complex on the outskirts of Cairo, built during British rule, that houses about 2,500 political prisoners and common criminals.
“Today Maher is nominally a free man, but the restrictions on his movements are stifling. The regime is deeply concerned that he could revive the social-media network that brought his followers to the streets six years ago,” Hammer adds.
“As it was explained to Maher, ‘tweets can lead to demonstrations, and demonstrations can lead to revolution, and that will bring down the regime and create martyrs,’ he said. ‘So if you are tweeting, you are like a terrorist.’”
Egypt’s war on terror has paved the way for a crackdown that has expanded to target non-governmental organizations and to legitimate extrajudicial actions such as the rampant use of torture and indiscriminate arrest, says Amr Kotb, the advocacy and external relations manager at The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. Repression of civil society is paired with the government’s overt disregard for accountability, yielding an environment of impunity, he writes for The Hill:
There is almost no better example of this than Alaa Abed (right), one of the key delegates slated to come to Washington as part of Sisi’s delegation. Abed is a former Ministry of Interior official who faces serious accusations of torture. Ironically, he also holds the seat of chairman of the Human Rights Committee in Egypt’s House of Representatives; his “election” to this post (which he won after the previous chairman was forced out for having attended a human rights convention in Geneva) underscores the security apparatus’ control over all aspects of Egyptian politics, and the regime’s tendency to view human rights as a security concern.
Egypt’s President El-Sisi’s unprecedented government crackdown on dissent has rendered large parts of the country without any independent human rights groups.
The crackdown helps explain why an Egyptian appeals court’s acquittal of former President Hosni Mubarak on charges of killing protesters during the country’s 2011 uprising was met with deafening silence.
“Egyptians have gotten used to this,” said Dunne, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy. “They’ve become used to seeing more and more of the Mubarak-era officials acquitted or have their cases dropped,” she told Foreign Policy.
Last week, Egypt’s Parliament, which is subservient to Mr. Sisi, expelled a prominent lawmaker who had been critical of the government’s crackdown on civil society — Anwar Sadat, the nephew of the former Egyptian president assassinated by Islamists, The Times notes:
The United States needs to be able to work with Egypt. But Washington should not make any more concessions without real reforms in Egypt’s approach to human rights and governance. Before talks between the two governments advance, Egypt should be required to release Aya Hijazi, an American-Egyptian humanitarian worker who has been arbitrarily detained in Cairo since 2014.
April 6 founder Maher recently finished reading Samuel Huntington’s 1991 book, “The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late 20th Century,” and he believed that history would prove his efforts worthwhile, Hammer writes for The Times.
“Huntington wrote that waves of revolution are greater than waves of counterrevolution,” Maher said. “So it’s three steps forward, two steps back.” RTWT.
But Maher and his fellow self-styled revolutionaries have been criticized for failing to make the transition from protest to politics.
Pragmatism is not a virtue in the world of human rights advocacy, Egyptian analyst Samuel Tadros wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in Egypt:
Asked what he had in mind for his movement’s future, April 6 founder Ahmed Maher replied: “April 6 will monitor Parliament’s performance and confront any mistakes. . . . The group will continue to mobilize in Tahrir Square when necessary.” His colleague in the movement, Mohamed Adel described their priorities: “building a new state, societal reform, and putting pressure on anyone in power.” If they clung to their previous practices, it was because they knew no other.