Defying global calls, Egypt continues persecution of political activists  

Egyptian authorities have arrested two more lawyers in an apparent attempt to scuttle the nationwide call for protests this Friday. The head of a rights group said that over a 1,000 people have been detained in the last few weeks

November 09, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Political prisoners Egypt
Sanaa Seif, speaking on the sidelines of the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheik on November 8. (Photo: Mada Masr)

As per a statement issued by the Egyptian Network of Human Rights (ENHR) on Tuesday, November 8, Egyptian authorities have arrested two more lawyers in an apparent attempt to scuttle the nationwide call for protests this Friday. The UN climate summit is currently ongoing in the country even as human rights groups are leading a movement for the release of Alaa Abdel Fattah and other political prisoners.  

The two lawyers, Ahmed Natheer al-Helou from Cairo and Ahmed Ghurab from Giza, were arrested from their homes on Monday. Their whereabouts were not known even after 24 hours of their arrests. Al-Helou is a lawyer for a large number of political prisoners, while Ghurab is a member of the Egyptian bar association and has been tried before.  

Ahmed Attar, executive director of ENHR, claimed that the arrest of the lawyers is part of the Egyptian authorities’ crackdown on journalists, human rights activists, and others due to the protest call given last month. He claimed that more than 1,000 people have been detained in the last few weeks by the Egyptian authorities, Middle East Eye reported. 

A nationwide protest call has been given by some individuals on social media against the government’s failure to protect Egyptian citizens from the rise in prices of essential commodities and other economic concerns. The protest is being called a “climate revolution” in the context of the ongoing UN climate conference, COP27, in Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Middle East Eye reported that at least 118 Egyptians have been arrested between October 25 and November 3 in the context of the protest call. Other sources claim a much higher number.   

Egyptians are facing increasing hardships due to the rise in prices of essential commodities for the last few years and growing austerity measures adopted by the governments. Out of a total population of 100 million, around 64 million are dependent on food rations provided by the state. 

Recently, prices increased further after Egypt devalued its currency following a USD 3 billion loan deal with the IMF. 

The prices of food grains have also risen due to the reduction in imports because of the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia. Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat and heavily relies on supplies from Russia and Ukraine. 

The plight of political prisoners

Meanwhile, an Egyptian member of parliament was caught heckling Sanaa Seif, younger sister of political prisoner Alaa Abdel Fattah, on Tuesday while she was talking about Alaa’s case at a press conference in Sharm el-Sheik on the sidelines of the COP27 summit. During her presentation, Sanaa claimed that she and her family have no news about Alaa’s condition after him being 50 hours without water and food. 

Alaa has been sitting on an indefinite hunger strike for months and escalated the strike by refusing even water from Sunday.  

Sanaa said that governments, including the UK and other Western governments, participating in the COP27 summit are also complicit in the oppression of Egyptian people and “benefit from our oppression.” She demanded that these governments take immediate action to save Alaa’s life and secure the release of all political prisoners in Egypt. 

Claiming that Alaa’s release is a matter of “life and death, of justice, of human rights,” UK human rights and climate activist Asad Rehman asserted, “we will not accept any government, including the UK government, prioritizing arms sales and trade deals over the lives of our people.” 

Meanwhile, various heads of states as well as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk have demanded Alaa’s release. Türk claimed that Alaa’s “dry hunger strike puts his life at acute risk.”

On Tuesday, three Egyptian women journalists, Mona Selim, Eman Auf and Rasha Azab, announced that they are sitting on an indefinite hunger strike in solidarity with Alaa and to demand the release of “all prisoners of conscience” in the country.  

According to various sources, the Abdel Fattah al-Sisi government has carried out a massive crackdown on political opponents and civil society groups in the country. There are currently over 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt.