Egypt’s Revolution Marks its 4th Anniversary with Little to Celebrate

Egypt, Justice and the Rule of Law, Op-ed, Shrinking Space for Civil Society

The flame of the 25 January 2011 Revolution that sparked hopes for dignity, democracy and human rights in Egypt and beyond has been waning. The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) is deeply dismayed by the authoritarian drift and troubling human rights situation in the country. Under the condoning eyes of the international community, Egypt’s rulers have brought the country full circle, dashing the aspirations of those who risked their lives in Tahrir Square for a new Egypt.

Following the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new rulers have gone to greater lengths than the Mubarak regime in stifling dissent on their quest to consolidate their grip on power, with the respect for basic human rights as their first victim. Under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, the country has witnessed death sentences levelled en masse in summary trials described by UN and African experts as ‘’unacceptable mockery of justice,’’ arbitrary arrests of thousands of democracy activists and government critics, including human rights defenders, as well as the detention of thousands solely for being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The world has watched with awe as the security forces deployed lethal force to disperse peaceful protests, resulting in a staggering civilian death toll with total impunity.

Over the last two years, Egypt has witnessed increased repression of its civil society. A legal blow was dealt to it with the deadline of November 10, 2014 set by the authorities for NGOs to register under Mubarak-era repressive law or face legal consequences. The draconian restrictions embodied in this law are meant to undermine their ability to work independently and fulfil their mandates. Moreover, the penal code has been amended, allowing for more restrictions and harsher punishments, including life imprisonment, for NGO’s receiving foreign funding. This has led many to cease their activities or leave the country, at a time when they are most needed.

Equally worrying have been the attempts to criminalize free speech and peaceful assembly. The arrest of Egyptian activists solely for peacefully expressing their views has become a systematic and prevalent practice. Many of the activists who filled Egypt’s squares in 2011 are now behind bars or have been issued with travel bans. A case in point is prominent activist Alaa Abdel Fattah who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for “participating in a demonstration” in a trial marred by forged evidence and violations of the most basic standards of fairness. To protest the grounds and conditions of his detention, Abdel Fattah has been on hunger strike for more than 80 days, risking his life to expose this trend. Indeed, Egypt’s judiciary has been instrumentalised by the executive branch to silence dissidents and human rights defenders, casting shadows over its independence and the country’s democratic transition.

A recent hint President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has made that demonstrations are harmful to the country bodes ill for Egypt’s legislative elections in March, the final step in a political roadmap put in place by the military after the ouster of the country’s first democratically elected president. The country has been without a parliament since its last elected house was dissolved by court ruling in 2012, currently leaving legislative powers in the hands of President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

The relentless crackdown on activists, civil society, and dissenting voices, including the Muslim Brotherhood, leaves no doubt as to the murkiness the elections results. This has led the EU to abstain from sending a full-fledged observation mission. Indeed, the fair and transparent elections cannot be held in such conditions. The government should immediately cease its unlawful clampdown on civil society and dissent, release those detained solely for peacefully expressing their views, and repeal its controversial Protest Law or amend it in accordance with international human rights standards.

The international community cannot wait and see how the authoritarian drift of the Egyptian authorities might lead to yet another conflict at the EU’s border. It is not too late for Egypt to change course, and not too late for its partners to show the way.