Background on President Sisi’s record of authoritarian and repressive rule:
In July 2013, General Sisi seized control of Egypt in a military coup that removed Mohammed Morsi, the country’s first democratically elected leader. The following month, on August 14, Sisi’s military massacred approximately 1,000 peaceful protestors in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. Human Rights Watch Executive Director Kenneth Roth called the Rabaa massacre “one of the worst killing of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” pointing out that the violence was “intentionally planned at the highest levels of Egyptian society.” Between July 2013 and May 2014, Egyptian authorities detained, charged, or sentenced over 40,000 people. Many of the detainees — demonstrators, human rights advocates, and journalists — were held without trial, brutally treated, subjected to mass trials with no due process and sentenced to death.
Since then, Sisi has governed with an iron fist. According to the U.S. State Department, Egyptian security forces engage in extrajudicial killings, torture, and harsh crackdowns on anyone who wishes to practice the right to freedom of speech.
In 2015, President Sisi governed without an elected parliament, giving himself almost total impunity for his attacks on civil and political rights. In April 2019, Sisi’s government passed constitutional amendments allowing the leader to remain in power until 2030. That fall, Egyptian authorities launched their biggest crackdown since Sisi seized power in 2013. According to Amnesty International, over 2,300 people, including more than 111 children, were taken into custody in sweeping and targeted arrests of peaceful protestors, journalists, human rights attorneys, politicians, and political activists.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already abysmal prison conditions in Egypt.
On August 19, 2019, President Sisi ratified a new NGO law containing numerous draconian provisions to stifle local and foreign NGOs, inhibit an independent civil society, and violate international human rights obligations. Under the NGO law, all civic groups must receive state licenses to operate or face dissolution. Informal, unregistered organizations are illegal and the state reserves the right to suspend license applications at any time for minor administrative errors or on vague grounds. Egyptian government entities have vast, arbitrary powers to interfere in NGOs’ work, including by entering NGO premises without prior notice and NGOs may not cooperate in any way with any “foreign entity inside or outside the country.” Employment of foreigners, even as volunteers, is illegal without a license from the Minister of Social Solidarity.
In 2011, Egyptian authorities raided the headquarters of multiple NGOs in what would become the notorious “Case 173.” Afterwards, 43 defendants from 20 NGOs were charged with receiving foreign funding, had their assets frozen, were subjected to travel bans, and were sentenced to between one and five years in prison. In 2018, the original 43 men were acquitted and in 2020 the case was officially closed. However, in July of 2021, the investigative judge from Case 173 interrogated and intimidated at least five directors of these NGOs over their human rights work. Those interrogated included Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information; Hossam Bahgat, founder and director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Mozn Hassan, head of Nazra for Feminist Studies; Azza Soliman, director of the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance; and human rights lawyer Negad al-Borai.
Some of the other Egyptians who have been targeted by Sisi’s regime include:
- Human rights activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, who was sentenced to five years in prison in December 2021; Egyptian human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer, who had previously represented Fattah; and Egyptian blogger Mohamed Ibrahim, known as “Oxygen.” Charged with “spreading false news undermining national security,” all were sentenced to four years in prison on the same day. Under the rules of the court, there is no possibility for the men to appeal; the sentences can only be overturned by President Sisi or someone he designates.
- Dr. Ahmed Amasha, a veterinarian, environmental activist, and trade unionist, has been subjected to forced disappearance and torture at the hands of the Egyptian security apparatus. While imprisoned, Dr. Amasha was prohibited from receiving visitors, exercising, meeting with his lawyer, going outside, reading books, or even going to a doctor even after prison officers broke his rib.
- Hossam Bahgat is an Egyptian human rights activist and the founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He was arrested in November 2015 on charges of "publishing false news that harms national interests and disseminating information that disturbs public peace" following his investigation of the trial of several military officers. In November 2021, an Egyptian court found Bahgat guilty of a tweet that “insulted the country” and fined him 10,000 Egyptian pounds (about $636).
- In February 2020, the authorities arrested Patrick George Zaki from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) for “disseminating false news” after he wrote an article about discrimination against Egypt’s Christian minority. He was detained for 19 months without trial and tortured before being released on bail. If convicted, Zaki faces 5 years in jail.
- In April 2021, Egypt arrested Hoda Abdel Hamid in response to her filing a complaint about the alleged torture and sexual assault of her imprisoned son Abdelrahman Gamal Metwally al-Showweikh. Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of Hoda Abdel Hamid and an investigation into the torture and assault allegations.
In October 2020, when Egyptians dared to challenge the government through peaceful protests, the government used tear gas, batons, birdshot, and even live ammunition against them. Hundreds of people were detained, including many who were not even involved in the protests. According to Amnesty International, “The authorities have yet again resorted to their usual tactics of violence and mass arrests to send a clear message that no form of protest will be tolerated.”
International groups that tried to have peaceful meetings in Egypt since Sisi came to power have also been severely repressed. In 2014, when the U.S.-based women’s peace group CODEPINK tried to bring 100 international women to Cairo to discuss Gaza, the organizer, Medea Benjamin, was detained at the airport, beaten up by security police who dislocated her shoulder, and then deported. The rest of the women were denied entry.