Despite presidential promises for a more open and transparent society, fears for the future of democracy in Egypt were further exacerbated when a gathering of dozens of politicians, writers and human rights activists were attacked by unknown assailants at the iftar dinner party, for the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan, organized by the Civil Democratic Movement. The assailants crashed the iftar at the Swiss Club in Cairo and overturned the dinner tables while chanting “Traitors! Spies!”, to the assembled group.
The head of the Constitution Party, Khaled Dawoud, who attended the dinner, said in a Facebook post on the day of the incident, “There are no more red lines and any gathering for the opposition or independents figures is prohibited,” hinting that the ruling regime might be implicated in planning the attack.
On June 2, President Sisi addressed the Egyptian parliament and pledged to achieve real political development. “I assure you that tolerance and common spaces are my top priority for achieving peace and harmony in our society,” Sisi said. However, there are those who doubt the veracity of the president’s words.
Parliamentarian Haitham El-Hariri commented on the incident, saying, “Such attacks send negative messages at the start of the new presidential term and contradicts the president’s promises.” He asked in a Facebook post, “Why is the security policy not in line with the rhetoric of the presidential institution?”
Recent weeks have seen the arrests of video blogger Shadi Abu Zaid, political activist Amal Fathiand political activist Shadi al-Ghazaly Harb, as well as prominent Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, who was accused of colluding with a terrorist organization, using the internet to promote terrorist ideas and encourage terrorist acts, and spreading false news to intentionally disrupt security and public peace and harm public interest. The labor rights lawyer Haytham Mohamdeen, was also held in custody, following a 15-day investigation by the Supreme State Security Prosecution. He was accused of collusion with a terrorist organization and inciting protests.
According to a Human Rights Watch report published May 31, the Egyptian security forces raided the houses of six Egyptian activists and arrested them in the month of May.
The executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson, noted in the report: “The state of oppression in Egypt has sunk so low that al-Sisi’s forces are arresting well-recognized activists as they sleep, simply for speaking up.” She added, “The message is clear that criticism and even mild satire apparently earn Egyptians an immediate trip to prison.”
The Egyptian security campaign was not limited to activists and journalists; it also included a former presidential campaigner who worked on Sisi’s 2014 electoral campaign. The prosecution ordered the provisional arrest of political activist Hazem Abdel Azim on May 28 for 15 days pending further investigation. He was accused of calling for obstructing the constitution and spreading false information.
On May 30, two days prior to Sisi’s taking the constitutional oath of office for his second term, the European Union issued a statement expressing concern over the recent wave of arrests of political and human rights activists in Egypt.
The statement said, “The increasing number of arrests of human rights defenders, political activists and bloggers in the latest weeks in Egypt is therefore a worrying development.”
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry rejected the EU’s statement and responded on the same day, describing the statement as “inaccurate” and “not representative of the Egyptian reality.”
On May 24, the White House issued a statement expressing the US administration’s concern about the Egyptian authorities’ arrests of peaceful activists in Egypt. The Egyptian government has yet to comment on the statement.
This edited article by Albaraa Abdullah originally appeared in Al Monitor