Egypt: Upon arrival at Cairo Airport, researcher ‘Gabbas’ immediately arrested

Political science researcher Amgad Gabbas travelled to Cairo for the Eid holidays last week but has been detained since then

Egyptian political science researcher Amgad Gabbas was detained by police while at Cairo Airport upon his arrival from overseas for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, sources told Middle East Eye on Friday.

According to the London-based Egyptian Network for Human Rights, Gabbas is currently held in Qanater prison on the northern outskirts of Cairo. It remains unclear what charges he is facing.

The detention comes soon after Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued pardons for some 3000 prisoners, including only dozens of liberal political prisoners ahead of the Eid holidays.  

It also comes amid media revelations that the corpse of an Egyptian economic researcher had signs of torture after his body was found in a psychiatric hospital in Cairo last month.

Arresting dissidents from airports has become common practice since Sisi, a former army general, became president in 2014.

The Arab Network for Human Rights Information, which has recently terminated its activity in the country over repressive civil society laws, has described Egyptian airports as “a trap for government critics and opponents”.

Many journalists, lawyers, and government critics have been arrested at Egyptian airports, whether upon their arrival or on their way out of the country, including human rights activist Patrick Zaki, journalist Gamal al-Gamal, the researcher Ismail Al-Iskandrani, journalist Ahmed Gamal Ziada, and human rights lawyer Ibrahim Metwally.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi rose to power after ousting Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, in a 2013 military coup.

Since then, his government has targeted members and supporters of Morsi’s administration in a large-scale crackdown. More recently he has also targeted the secular opposition.

In June 2019, Morsi died while in custody in circumstances described by UN experts as “state-sanctioned arbitrary killing”.

More than half of all prisoners in Egypt are political, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

The total number of prisoners in the country in March 2021 was 120,000, with an estimated 65,000 political prisoners – at least 26,000 of them were held in pre-trial detention.

Dire press freedom

On the World Press Freedom Day, last Tuesday, 3 May 2022, U.S. lawmakers and various human rights organizations took advantage of the annual occasion to draw attention to Egypt’s dire press freedom record and to demand the release of jailed journalists.

In the U.S. Senate, a bipartisan group introduced a resolution aimed at “recognizing widening threats to press freedom and free expression around the world” that listed Egypt as a particularly egregious offender.

The resolution remarks that “Egypt’s restrictions on the media have accelerated under Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi since 2013, with at least 25 journalists imprisoned during 2021.”

The resolution highlights the cases of bloggerAlaa Abdel Fattah, freelance journalist Ismail Alexandrani, Al Jazeera journalist Hisham Abdel Aziz, and freelance photographer Mahmoud Abou Zeid.

It is noteworthy that Egypt dropped even further in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, from 166th out of 180 countries last year (2021) to 168th in this year’s edition (2022).

RSF stressed that Egypt is “one of the world’s biggest prisons for journalists” and that “pluralism is essentially non-existent.”

On its side, the Egyptian Network for Human Rights listed 59 journalists currently behind bars in Egypt, whether in pretrial detention or serving unjust prison sentences.