By Abdus Sattar Ghazali,
A fig leaf of democracy is being developed in Egypt amid persecution of opposition, mass executions and imposition of state of emergency to give wide powers to suppress all kind of dissent of a quazi-military government of US-client President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi who deposed Egypt’s first democratically elected President Mohammad Morsi in July 2013.
The presidential election in Egypt is scheduled for March 26-28. However, a complicated election process has been evolved to ensure that there should not be any meaningful challenge to the incumbent president Al-Sisi who is seeking re-election.
To be eligible to run for president, a candidate must collect 25,000 signatures from constituents across 15 governorates (with at least 1,000 signatures from each area), or the signatures of 20 members of the pro-Al-Sisi parliament.
On January 23, the army arrested presidential contender Sami Anan, former head of the Egyptian armed forces. Anan was accused of committing violations that “warrant official investigation”, according to the Supreme Committee of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
The army said the 69-year-old had not obtained the army’s approval to run for president and accused him of seeking to divide the armed forces and citizens of Egypt.
Amnesty International has described Anan’s arrest “an attack on the rights to public participation and freedom of expression” in Egypt.
“It appears that Sami Anan has been detained because he was widely considered to be a serious contender” against Al-Sisi, said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty’s director of North Africa campaigns.
“This is not the first time such a contender has been prevented from running against the incumbent.”
Indeed, a handful of presidential hopefuls have abandoned their campaigns in recent weeks.
Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik’s plan to run was short-lived after he withdrew his potential candidacy earlier this month. “I saw that I would not be the ideal person to lead the state during the coming period,” Shafik said in a statement posted on Twitter. One of Shafik’s lawyers accused the Egyptian government of putting pressure on the 76-year-old by threatening to re-investigate previous corruption allegations against him.
Timothy Kaldas, non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy told Al-Jazeera that the Sisi government has “made it so untenable and so undesirable and so dangerous to run” for president today, that it is “fairly discouraging for anybody who would seriously entertain” the idea.
He also said the Egyptian government appears unconcerned by whether anyone views the election as credible. “The question is: what’s worse, a convincing sham, or one that’s transparently a sham?” Kaldas said.
In December, Ahmed Konsowa, an Egyptian army colonel, was sentenced to six years in prison after he announced his intention to run for president. Konsowa was charged with “stating political opinions contrary to the requirements of military order”, his lawyer said.
Another high-profile potential candidate, Mohamed Anwar el-Sadat, the nephew of Egypt’s assassinated former president, Anwar Sadat, also recently cancelled his campaign. A spokesperson for el-Sadat’s campaign told Reuters that at least three Cairo hotels reportedly refused to rent el-Sadat a space from which to officially launch his candidacy and printers refused to print his campaign manifesto. “It’s a systematic campaign to kill off candidates. I call it a political assassination process,” Osama Badie told the news agency.
Egypt extends state of emergency
The presidential election will be held under the state of emergency that was extended on January 2. Egypt has extended by another three months a nationwide state of emergency, citing security reasons.
Not surprisingly, state news agency MENA said the move was taken to allow security forces to “take (measures) necessary to confront the dangers and funding of terrorism and safeguard security in all parts of the country”.
Egyptian authorities first imposed a nationwide state of emergency in April 2017, after two church bombings killed at least 45 people. Similar extensions were announced in July and October last year.
The measure grants the president, and those acting on his behalf, the power to refer civilians to State Security Emergency Courts for the duration of the three-month period.
There is no appeal process for State Security Emergency Court verdicts.
It also allows the president to intercept and monitor all forms of communications, imposing censorship prior to publication and confiscating extant publications, impose a curfew for or order the closure of commercial establishments, sequestration of private properties, as well as designating areas for evacuation.
The emergency measures allow security forces to detain people for any period of time, for virtually any reason. They also grant broad powers to restrict public gatherings and media freedom.
Human Rights Watch
The presidential election will be held in an atmosphere of untamed repression.
Human Rights Watch said on January 18, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government during 2017 observed few boundaries on its untamed repression of all forms of dissent. While the country faced major security threats and attacks by armed groups, the government introduced a host of repressive laws, reinstated the abusive state of emergency, and sent thousands of civilians to military courts that, along with civilian courts, issued scores of death sentences in flawed trials, Human Rights Watch said in its World Report 2018.
Al-Sisi is unlikely to face a serious challenge for a second term in the 2018 presidential elections, planned for March and April. His government tightly controls local media outlets, prosecutes critical journalists and activists, and maintains a zero-tolerance policy for exercising the right to peaceful assembly, effectively eliminating basic requirements for fair elections.
“Reviewing Egypt’s 2017 record, it appears that applying violence and repression to decimate the rule of law and peaceful opposition is al-Sisi’s primary ‘accomplishment,’” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The way things are trending, the government crackdown will continue to stifle citizens’ legitimate aspirations and rights.”
Tellingly, on the Al- Sisi’s watch 109 had been sentenced to death in 2013, 509 in 2014, 538 in 2015 and 237 in 2016.
UN experts call on Egypt to halt executions
Egypt must stop executions until it has reviewed all death sentences and retry any convictions that are found to rest on unfair trials, five independent UN human rights experts said on January 26. “We have raised multiple specific cases with the Egyptian authorities and continue to receive more. In the light of these persistent serious allegations, we urge the Government to halt all pending executions,” the experts said in a statement.
The experts were José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez, Agnes Callamard, Bernard Duhaime, Nils Melzer, and Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, who report to the Council on arbitrary detention, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and the protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“We are particularly concerned by an apparently continuing pattern of death sentences handed out on the basis of evidence obtained through torture or ill-treatment, often during a period of enforced disappearance,” they said.
NGOs urge Egypt to revoke death sentences
Fifty-four non-governmental organizations issued Wednesday (Jan. 24) a joint declaration urging Egypt to revoke death sentences that came after the 2013 military coup.
Turkish and Egyptian NGOs called on the international public and international institutions which Egypt is part of — including the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the African Union — to discourage the executions from being carried out.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to prevent execution of the death sentences of these people, most of whom are young political prisoners,” said the declaration.
US-client General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi (who later adopted the title of Field Marshal) deposed Mohamed Morsi, the country’s first freely elected president, in a 2013 military coup after one year in power.
Among the NGOs gathered in Istanbul, there were 10 Egyptian NGOs.
The statement added that most were not involved in violence and were pacifist activists, scholars or journalists.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net). He is the author of several books including Islam & Muslims in the 21st Century published in 2017.