Egypt arrests activist off plane after emergency landing, Sisi still denies abuses

When criticized on human rights violations during the World Youth Forum that he organizes every year, Sisi said Egyptians don’t find food. A few days later, his security forces arrested an opposition activist whose plane had an emergency landing in Luxor.

The arrest of an Egyptian opposition activist in the city of Luxor after his plane was forced to undertake an emergency landing while en route from Sudan to Turkey has shocked human rights advocates in the country.

The young man, identified by a rights group as 29-year-old Hossam Menoufi Mahmoud Sallam, was on board Badr Airlines flight No. J4690 from Khartoum to Istanbul on Wednesday when it landed at Luxor Airport in southern Egypt.

Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the detention of Sallam, which the Istanbul-based rights group We Record called an “enforced disappearance” as he has been held incommunicado since.

According to a statement by the airlines, the flight had to land in Luxor after a warning from the smoke detection system in cargo cabin room no. 1.

The signal was a false one, however, and no faults in the system were found when the plane landed, the statement said.

To fix the alarm system, the plane was sent to Bratislava Airport for maintenance, and a replacement plane was sent from Khartoum to take the passengers to Istanbul.

When passengers were completing the boarding of the second plane, they were required to go through passport controls again in Luxor.

“Boarding the alternative plane makes the Egyptian authorities part of the travel procedures as applied in the flight regulations, and this is what led to the arrest of the aforementioned passenger,” the statement pointed out.

The company denied complicity in handing over the Egyptian passenger, saying “it has nothing to do whatsoever in the actions taken by the Egyptian authorities or against the aforementioned passenger,” and that it was not aware of the reasons for the arrest.

Superficial attempts for rights progress

Egypt’s superficial attempts to create an impression of human rights progress failed to disguise the government’s brutal repression of all manner of dissent in 2021, Human Rights Watch said on 13 January in its World Report 2022.

Despite ending the nationwide state of emergency in October, the government attached emergency decree provisions to other laws, and Emergency State Security Courts continued to prosecute human rights and peaceful political activists. In January 2021, the implementing regulations for the associations law formalized extensive and arbitrary restrictions on independent civil society organizations, requiring groups to register by January 11, 2022, or risk dissolution. The authorities used discriminatory morality and debauchery laws to arrest and detain female social media influencers on unjust charges of “undermining family values.”

“Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government in 2021 continued down its well-trod path of unrelenting repression,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

In the 752-page World Report 2022, its 32nd edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in nearly 100 countries. Executive Director Kenneth Roth challenges the conventional wisdom that autocracy is ascendent. In country after country, large numbers of people have recently taken to the streets, even at the risk of being arrested or shot, showing that the appeal of democracy remains strong. Meanwhile, autocrats are finding it more difficult to manipulate elections in their favor. Still, he says, democratic leaders must do a better job of meeting national and global challenges and of making sure that democracy delivers on its promised dividends.

Sisi still defends human rights record

Following a question about human rights in Egypt, Sisi claimed that many statements issued abroad are based on inaccurate information, emphasizing his point by asking the crowd “Do you love our people more than us? Do you fear for our country more than we do?”

He then called on all those who claim to have data on the number of enforced disappearances to give that information to the state.

Egypt’s human rights record has been widely criticized, especially by foreign human rights groups. Human Rights Watch estimates that there are around 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Cairo has frequently rejected such criticism.

Sisi offers allowing protests for money

During the WYF, in response to criticism of rights violations, Sisi also said he can allow protests in return for $50bn to be paid from outside on an annual basis.

According to Sisi’s allegations , freedom of expression in Egypt is guaranteed and he is fully prepared to accept any real criticism in order to advance the Egyptian state. He’ll even allow Egyptians to demonstrate in the street, if he’s given $50bn each year.

“Write down $50 billion each year, and I will ask Egyptians to demonstrate,” he said.

Sisi justified his request by explaining how Egypt needs around $20bn-30bn annually to cover its expenses.

“Is it normal that I can earn and save this money while the country has demonstrations?” he asked.

Protests in Egypt last year were met with riot police, teargas and rubber bullets, all accompanied by the threat of arrest.