Egypt: Sisi and his FM’s contradictory comments on regime’s critics

While at home Sisi warns critics not to “talk about things of which you don’t know”, and pro-democracy activists are convicted on “false news” charges. Egypt’s FM in Davos promises to allow protests at COP 27!

Egypt’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s claimed at the Egyptian Family Iftar one month ago that “the homeland embraces all of us and that differences of opinion do not spoil the homeland’s affairs”.

However, such claim has looked increasingly dubious over the last few days as his regime has launched rhetorical, judicial, and extrajudicial attacks on all forms of criticism.

To start with the rhetorical attacks, Sisi, speaking at the inauguration of an agricultural megaproject over the weekend, offered warnings to those who plan to offer criticism at his national dialogue.

“We ask that you pay attention to every file and study it before speaking about it,” he said, telling critics not to “talk about things of which you don’t know” or “belittle work through which God has bestowed great generosity upon us all.”

In a chilling illustration of the president’s warning, an emergency court today sentenced pro-democracy activist and Civil Democratic Movement co-founder Yehia Hussein Abdel Hady to four years in prison for allegedly spreading false news.

Abdel Hady had already spent more than the two year maximum in pretrial detention since his January 2019 arrest.

As for extrajudicial means, photojournalist Mohamed Fawzy, who had previously spent more than one year behind bars on false news charges, has been forcibly disappeared since his arrest last week.

The president’s comments, Abdel Hady’s sentencing, and Fawzy’s enforced disappearance have only added to the increasing skepticism surrounding the national dialogue.

FM Shoukry’s comments at Davos

Even as the crackdown on dissent continues, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told reporters that Egypt will allow protests during the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27) in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Shoukry’s comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland came after Amnesty International warned that “Egyptian authorities must not be allowed to use the COP27 as a rebranding exercise to deflect criticism of their human rights record.”

The group urged participants to instead “guarantee the meaningful participation of Egyptian and international civil society. That requires the authorities to ease their iron grip on civic space, to instruct security forces to allow peaceful protests to take place, refraining from any arrests or other reprisals against those exercising their human rights or on the basis of discrimination, and to release all those arbitrarily detained on such grounds.”

Shoukry claimed that the government recognizes protesters’ “impact, their determination, their commitment to keep us all honest.”

He added that the government is “developing a facility adjacent to the conference center that will provide [protesters] the full opportunity of participation, of activism, of demonstration, of voicing that opinion.”