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Egyptian security forces cordon off roads during curfew hours, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, March 29, 2020. © AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty

(Beirut) – Egyptian authorities intensified their repression of peaceful government critics and ordinary people during 2020, virtually obliterating any space for peaceful assembly, association or expression, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2021.

The parliament approved President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s extension of a nationwide state of emergency for the fourth year in a row. The authorities used the Covid-19 pandemic as a pretext to silence critics including health workers, journalists and bloggers, and to keep hundreds, if not thousands, of detainees in pre-trial detention without judicial review.  In May, President al-Sisi approved amendments to the Emergency Law that expanded the executive branch’s power. The Covid-19 outbreak exacerbated abysmal detention conditions, with a ban on prison visits from March to August without alternative means of communication. Dozens of prisoners died in custody, including at least 14 apparently due to Covid-19.

“Ten years after Egyptians ousted Hosni Mubarak, they now live under the harsher, suffocating security grip of President al-Sisi’s government,” said Amr Magdi, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In the 761-page World Report 2021, its 31st edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 100 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth argues that the incoming United States administration should embed respect for human rights in its domestic and foreign policy in a way that is more likely to survive future US administrations that might be less committed to human rights. Roth emphasizes that even as the Trump administration mostly abandoned the protection of human rights, other governments stepped forward to champion rights. The Biden administration should seek to join, not supplant, this new collective effort. 

The Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency (NSA) and other security forces forcibly disappeared, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured detainees, including children. Many arrests were made on baseless charges of “joining a terrorist group” and “spreading false news.” Families of dissidents abroad were also subjected to collective punishment, including home raids and arrests. In September and October, the authorities arrested over 1,000 protesters, dissidents, and bystanders in response to small but widespread protests across the country.

The Egyptian #MeToo movement became re-energized in June, as victims and survivors of sexual violence posted their accounts online. In response,  the authorities carried out an extensive campaign of arrests and prosecutions against women social media influencers, in violation of their rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and non-discrimination. In August, the NSA arrested four witnesses to a high-profile 2014 gang rape case and two of their acquaintances on abusive charges including “inciting debauchery,” after the authorities had encouraged them to come forward.

The authorities continued to widely use the death penalty. At least 83 people were executed, including 25 convicted for alleged involvement in political violence in mass trials that greatly violated due process.

In conflict-ridden North Sinai, the Egyptian military demolished thousands of homes, forcibly evicting residents without fair compensations or judicial recourse, and denied access to journalists and other independent observers.

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