Egypt’s government has intensified a crackdown on political opponents, arresting a series of high-profile dissidents in raids on their homes in recent weeks as President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi prepares to begin a new term next month.
Those detained in the current sweep are among the country’s most prominent non-Islamist activists, including three human rights advocates, a satirist, and a well-known labor lawyer.
The roundup appeared to be one of the most far-reaching since the government clampdown that took place in 2013, after Mr. Sisi presided over the military’s removal of former Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. The current crackdown reflects the government’s concern about political instability as a painful economic overhaul is rolled out and voices critical of the state are suppressed.
“The government is worried about any mobilizer, anyone who could mobilize people, and Facebook is their biggest nemesis,” said Mohamed Lotfy, the director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Lotfy’s wife was arrested during a raid on their home on the morning of May 11, shortly after she posted a video on Facebook in which she complained about what she described as sexual harassment toward her by a police officer. Mr. Lotfy believes his wife’s arrest was a sign of government harassment of his family over his own work as a human rights advocate.
Officials at Egypt’s Interior Ministry—which oversees the police—couldn’t be reached for comment. A spokesman at the Egyptian president’s office didn’t respond to a message seeking comment.
The most recent arrest came at dawn on Wednesday morning when security officers arrived at the Cairo home of Wael Abbas, an award-winning writer and activist known for distributing evidence of torture and police brutality.
They took Mr. Abbas and seized his laptop, bottles of whiskey, and a toy rifle, according to his sister, Rasha Abbas. Mr. Abbas’ whereabouts are currently unknown. His family said the security forces didn’t present a warrant for the raid, which occurred as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan was getting under way.
“Wael hasn’t been writing for a while,” said Ms. Abbas. “We are surprised at the timing, at dawn during Ramadan, and in this terrorizing manner.”
Mr. Sisi won a second term in March in an election in which his only credible opponents were jailed and removed from contention. Some observers had speculated that the election would offer an opportunity to ease the government clampdown on opponents.
Also arrested in recent weeks were labor lawyer Haytham Mohamadeen, opposition activist Shady Ghazaly Harb, and online video satirist Shadi Abu Zeid.
Separately, Tuesday, a Cairo military court sentenced a well-known researcher to 10 years in prison on charges of disclosing military secrets, joining a banned organization and distributing false news. The researcher, Ismail Alexandrani is among the top analysts studying Islamic State insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula.
Last week Mr. Sisi ordered the release of more than 300 detainees, including young people jailed for participating in protests. Rights organizations say the raft of pardons did little to reverse the political crackdown in which tens of thousands have been arrested since 2013.
Earlier in May, police arrested dozens of people who joined protests against a surprise increase in the price of tickets in the Cairo subway, a sign of growing discontent with Mr. Sisi’s overhaul of the economy. More cuts are expected over the summer, including an increase in the price of electricity.
Source: Wall Street journal