On Saturday, August 26, 2023, the Washington Post deplored the ongoing “Carousel of Repression” in Egypt, and the arrest campaigns of dissidents of Egypt’s “authoritarian” President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
In its editorial, the newspaper pointed out to the pardon Sisi issued last Saturday for the activist and blogger Ahmed Douma, a blogger and protest leader who was one of the best-known faces of the 2011 Arab Spring, who spent a decade in prison. It added that “ Days later, the authorities arrested Hisham Kassem, a prominent democracy activist and former publisher who was organizing opposition to the president, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi.”
The newspaper continued: “So goes the carousel of repression in Egypt, holding thousands of political prisoners for months and years without trial, freeing a handful — and then taking in more.”
It described Kassem’s arrest as disturbing. He is former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and was previously publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent newspaper. In 2007, he was honored by the National Endowment for Democracy with its Democracy Award. He has been a strong advocate for independent journalism in Egypt and highly critical of Mr. Sisi’s military rule at a time when Egypt is in a deep economic crisis.
It pointed that Kassem and others launched the four-party al-Tayar al-Hurr, or Free Current, a political coalition planning to oppose Mr. Sisi in next year’s elections, which resulted in his arrest by the Egyptian authorities.
It added that “Mr. Kassem has repeatedly sought to expose corruption and denounce repression in Egypt, which clearly put him in the crosshairs of Mr. Sisi, the ex-general who took power after leading the 2013 coup that overthrew the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
“Mr. Kassem was initially detained on Aug. 20 when accused of “libel and slander” by former labor minister Kamal Abu Eita. The prosecutor offered to release Mr. Kassem on bail for 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $160. Mr. Kassem refused to pay, saying the detention was unfair. He was detained again the following day, on charges of slander, defamation, assaulting a public servant, intentionally disturbing others and misusing social media,” it added.
It also emphasised that “Sisi has tried to mask the horrors of Egypt’s human rights abuses. He announced a “national dialogue” with the opposition and has pardoned batches of prisoners, such as Mr. Douma and more than 30 others. But the releases are always followed by more unwarranted arrests and detentions.”
The newspaper pointed out that there are “more than 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt now. The authorities use pretrial detention to hold protesters, journalists and dissidents for long periods without ever initiating formal charges.”
It confirmed that “Under (US) law, $320 million of U.S. foreign military aid to Egypt is conditioned on improvement in its human rights record. The criteria include making reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly; allowing independent media, civil society and human rights defenders to function without interference; holding security forces accountable; investigating and prosecuting cases of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances; and releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law.”
It added that a group of 11 House members, including Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, has written to Secretary of State Antony Blinkenurging the administration to withhold the full $320 million until Egypt’s record improves.
The newspaper concluded by saying “It is time to end the charade and demand real progress protecting human dignity and free expression in Egypt — including the release of Mr. Kassem and other political prisoners.”