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How Far Will Sisi’s Government Go to Crush Protests?

More Repression Feared as Crackdown on Protestors Intensifies

Protesters chant slogans against the government in Cairo, Egypt, September 21, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

Time and again, Egyptian security forces have responded to peaceful protests with harsh oppression. Rare public protests this weekend were met with tear gas, the firing of live bullets, and mass arrests. Lawyers in Cairo talk of hundreds of detainees, including women and children, being held over the weekend at bases of the Central Security Forces, which are illegal detention facilities. Many detained are facing terrorism accusations, a now-familiar fate under President al-Sisi’s government which has sought to criminalize peaceful dissent, often by labelling dissidents as terrorists and punishing them with lengthy prison sentences.

Since 2013, al-Sisi’s government has crushed all basic rights. After 7 years of oppression, many Egyptians are now demanding dignity, equality, and freedom. But will al-Sisi’s government realize that oppression will not extinguish peoples’ rights?  

Not only have hundreds of protestors reportedly been arrested, but security forces have also arrested lawyers trying to support detainees, as well as journalists or citizens shooting video of the crackdown. Authorities have moved to block news websites, including BBC Arabic and the US-funded Al-Hurra TV, and interrupted Internet services used by protesters, including Facebook Live and messaging apps. Meanwhile the local mainstream media – much of it controlled by Egypt’s intelligence agencies – is deploying its usual tactics: denying protests, threatening to use CCTV to track down protestors for arrest, disseminating fake news, and warning foreign media about their lack of “professionalism.”

There are also legitimate fears that security forces will use excessive force, including by use of lethal weapons, against protestors, given Egypt’s recent history of massacres by security forces that have gone unpunished.

With al-Sisi addressing the United Nation’s General Assembly this week and Egypt’s human rights review at the UN Human Rights Council in November, Egypt’s partners – particularly Western countries – should send the clearest message possible that abuses are not tolerated and that they will not assist in any oppression, including through selling arms that can be used in repression. Experts identified, in citizen-generated videos, that western arms, including French police truck vehicles, were used by security forces to forcibly crush protests.

Al-Sisi should order his government to heed protestor demands to respect their rights and stop their assault on peaceful dissent. If he does not, Egypt’s allies should quickly speak up and stop fueling Egypt’s oppressive machinery. Confronting al-Sisi government’s abuses is long overdue.

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