Today, Egypt marks the first anniversary of the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi. The overthrown was conducted by the military with broad popular support on 3 July 2013. One year later we are left with an ugly calculation. The extent and severity of the persecution happening in Egypt under the newly elected President al-Sisi, is unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history.
Egypt has undergone a chaotic transition from an authoritarian regime under President Mubarak, who was overthrown in February 2011 by a military regime to a democratically elected Islamist rule which was deposited in July 2013, again by the military, with the support of the largest demonstration in Egypt’s history.
January 25 Revolution
25 January 2011 saw the beginning of the peaceful demonstrations on Tahrir Square in Cairo. As early as February 11, Egypt’s dictator through 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, was forced to resign. During these 18 days 846 people lost their lives and about 6,000 were injured. The supreme military council (SCAF) took over power after Mubarak. After one year in power, they held a free parliamentary election, but they are also responsible for abuses that were more extensive than under Mubarak.
“Three years after the January 25 Revolution (The Egyptian Revolution of 2011), the demands of dignity and human rights are further away than ever. Several of the architects of the revolution are imprisoned, and repression and impunity prevails.”
– Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International
One year with military control
Military courts tried more than 12,000 civilians for having used their right to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The military courts violated fundamental human rights such as the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal a verdict. Army and security have used extensive violence to stop protests and torture and rape under arrest and in the prisons have been common. About 8,000 Egyptians have been convicted of crimes as “spreading rumours”, “vandalism” or “breaking the curfew”. Sentences ranged from months to years in prison, and even the death penalty has been imposed. Women participated actively in the revolution. Now they are excluded.
One year with Islamic rule
30 June 2012, Mohamed Morsi was installed as Egypt’s first democratically elected president. He represented the Freedom and Justice Party, which is the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The human rights situation was not improved under his rule. The police or security forces implemented no reforms. The authorities used the same excessive use of violence against demonstrators as under the power of Mubarak. Discrimination and violence against women continued. Women were pushed out of the new political institutions. Freedom of expression was even more limited; many civilians were put on trial accused of blasphemy. It was not taken initiative to abolish torture, either in law or practice, and violence against religious minorities increased. After the largest protest in the history of Egypt on the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency on June 30, the military deposed Morsi and inserted a transitional government that ruled until al-Sisi won the presidential election with 97 per cent of the votes.
al-Sisi as President
Egypt’s new president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was sworn in on June 9. He was previously part of the top military council that ruled Egypt after the overthrown of President Mubarak in 2011. He also led the overthrow of Morsi in July 2013 and gave himself the role as defence minister in the interim government that took over before a presidential election was conducted; in which al-Sisi ran for president. Senior advisers have told The Telegraph that al-Sisi plotted a military takeover even while Hosni Mubarak was still in power, and that he sees himself as Egypt’s saviour. He predicted that Mubarak would try to pass on the leadership to his son Gamal, and that this could cause popular unrest. He recommended that the army should be prepared to move in to ensure stability, and to preserve the central role of the army in the state. al-Sisi promised stability to the people after the overthrown of both presidents, and received the support of the people. He has achieved just the opposite. al-Sisi began his presidential career in a situation where human rights are in worse conditions than in decades, but he has done nothing to change the situation.
Since July last year the military has cracked down on all protests against the regime. The persecutions have not been restricted to supporters of the deposed President Morsi and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, but all kinds of critical remarks. This can be illustrated with an incomplete list of government repressive measures in June, al-Sisi’s first month as president.
Egyptian authorities have tightened the strap on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Repressive legislation has been introduced to prohibit public celebrations and demonstrations and stop critics. Security forces have been given free rein to act above the law, and there is no prospect of them being held accountable for the abuses. These measures have been combined with attacks on journalists and media freedom, as well as other attempts to restrict the activities of non-governmental organisations.
On June 23, three Al Jazeera journalists were sentenced to imprisonment on terrorism-related charges, for having “faked the news”. The court sentenced Mohamed Fahmy and Peter Greste to seven years in prison, while Baher Mohamed was sentenced to ten years on an additional charge of possessing a bullet casing. He claimed he had taken it as a souvenir. James Watt, Britain’s ambassador to Egypt, said: “This is a deeply disappointing result. The Egyptian people have expressed over the past three years their wish for Egypt to be a democracy. Without freedom of the press there is no foundation for democracy.” Amnesty International condemned the sentences and called it a black day for press freedom in Egypt. Amnesty considers the three men prisoners of conscience and demand that they are released immediately and have started an urgent action.
The list of unjust actions taken by the government goes on. And keep in mind, all this has happened within the scope of just one month. In June, seven people were executed in Egypt. These are the first executions since 2011. On June 11, 25 activists, including blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a demonstration last November where they protested against civilians being tried by military tribunals. Amnesty International calls it a political verdict and has started an urgent action to release the 25 activists immediately. An Egyptian court sentenced 183 people to death on June 21, after a grossly unfair trial. Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie was among those condemned to death, as was a blind man who could not have taken part in any political violence. 23 people have been detained in Cairo following a march against Egypt’s repressive protest law on the evening of June 21. They included women’s rights activist and human rights defender Yara Sallam. She is a prisoner of conscience.
Egypt is falling off the cliff of justice. The military knew they could exploit the mobilisation of mass protests on the first anniversary of Morsi’s presidency to force him to his knees, with legitimacy by the power of the streets. They succeeded elegantly and were praised as liberators by millions of Egyptians. The military is still growing stronger and are pulling the strings in what looks like an Egyptian puppet theatre. The praise and tribute by the people may have silenced by now; when they see that their country is heading in high speed down the way to an unjust, unfair society.