With parliamentary elections currently underway in Egypt, the international community must not overlook the on-going crackdown on civil society and civic freedoms in the country, say CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance.
“Given Egypt’s current authoritarian political climate it is very unlikely that the elections will lead to any meaningful gains on democratic governance,” says Mandeep Tiwana, Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS. “Some gestures have been made by the authorities to appease the international community, however these are not enough. The international community needs to do much more to pressure the regime to restore sovereignty and rights to the Egyptian people.”
In September, ahead of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el Sisi’s speech to the UN General Assembly, pardons were issued to 100 wrongfully imprisoned pro-democracy activists. Yet, many more remain in prison while democratic rights are severely restricted by a web of repressive laws and practices.
Parliamentary elections are the last step in what the Egyptian government calls the “Roadmap to Democracy” launched in 2013 but civil society groups in Egypt are extremely unhappy with the current state of affairs.
Amal Elmohandes, from Nazra for Feminist Studies says, “The Egyptian government has for a while now been targeting human rights defenders not only through the protest law that restricts mobilisation, meetings and conferences but also through a discourse used by the media and the government on how human rights issues tamper with national security.” Many civil society activists are facing politically motivated criminal charges under the draconian anti-protest law 107 and several are banned from traveling while a number of NGOs have been placed under official investigation. There has been a perceptible rise in enforced disappearances and judicial harassment in the past year.
In January this year, poet, activist and peaceful protestor, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, was shot dead by a police officer during a march commemorating those who had died in the Egyptian revolution. Human rights lawyer and women’s rights defender, Azza Soliman who was a witness to the killing is currently being targeted by the authorities, wrongfully accused of participating in an illegal protest and disturbing public order. She risks up to five years imprisonment and a hefty fine. Her next hearing is slated for 24 October 2015. “When I am accused I cannot do my normal work to improve the situation for women’s rights on the ground and that is what they want”, says Soliman.
Civil society in Egypt is deeply concerned at the backing received by its authoritarian regime from several governments – including democratic ones - from around the world through arms procurement and trade agreements.
“The Egyptian regime has cleverly co-opted the regional security discourse to strengthen its own repressive apparatus. When leaders of democratic countries engage with Egypt in a business-as-usual manner, they underwrite repression in that country,” says Tiwana.