Sat, Jun 02, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Wave of arrests ahead of al-Sisi’s second term

AFP, CAIRO

As Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi prepares to be sworn in for a second four-year term today, a wave of arrests signals his government’s fear of social dissent, analysts say.

People involved in the January 2011 uprising that brought down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak are among those to have been detained amid a crackdown that began after March elections gave al-Sisi an official 97 percent of the vote.

Two of those arrested were blogger and journalist Wael Abbas and Shadi Ghazali Harb, one of the youth leaders during the revolution.

They also include Hazim Abdelazim, who has described his decision to head the youth committee of al-Sisi’s successful 2014 presidential bid as his “biggest mistake.”

“The arrests are in line with the repressive policies of recent years, which aim to subdue” all potential checks on power, French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs researcher Karim Bitar said.

A month ahead of the elections, the public prosecutor’s office told the media it would act against the dissemination of “false information” deemed detrimental to the nation’s “safety and security.”

The latest arrests show “nothing has changed in the security-focused policies of the regime,” Cairo University political science professor Mostafa Kamel el-Sayed said. “There is still worry of a repeat of what happened in January 2011.”

Economic hardship might also be making the authorities jittery, analysts say.

The government has imposed a value-added tax, cut fuel subsidies and hiked electricity prices as it seeks to keep to the terms of a US$12 billion loan deal with the IMF.

Authorities might also fear that activists would “use these circumstances to mobilize citizens against Sisi’s regime,” with figures who made their names in 2011 a particular source of concern, el-Sayed said.

A collapse in the value of the currency in late 2016 and resultant inflation has also left consumers feeling the pinch. Another electricity price hike and cut to fuel subsidies are planned for the summer.

To prepare the public for this unpopular medicine, state-run media has cited the government’s massive 104 billion Egyptian pound (US$4.97 billion) petroleum subsidy bill and the squeeze caused by oil prices rising back above US$75 per barrel.

Advocacy groups have condemned the arrests, with Human Rights Watch on Thursday denouncing a “state of oppression.”

“Sustainable stability and security can only go hand in hand with the full respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said.

Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid rejected the criticism, saying the EU’s track record in human rights could also be condemned.

Abu Zeid pointed to “the immense difficulty and degrading treatment suffered by many immigrants and refugees, as well as the violations committed by law enforcement authorities” in the EU.

“That is in addition to the growing effect of the rise of extremist, right-wing parties and movements, with the ensuing manifestations of racism, discrimination, violence and hate speech,” Abu Zeid said in a statement.

Also last month, a military court sentenced Ismail Alexandrani, a prominent journalist and expert on jihadist movements in the Sinai Peninsula, to 10 years in prison.

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