An interview with Mozynah Nofal

Mozynah is currently participating in CIVICUSs UN learning Exchange program for citizens of an African country. She is 22 years old, from Egypt and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialisation in Development from Carleton University in Canada.

Mozynah is currently participating in CIVICUSs UN learning Exchange program for citizens of an African country. She is 22 years old, from Egypt and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialisation in Development from Carleton University in Canada.

CIVICUS Interview Regarding Egypt

1. What are your experiences of civil society interaction with Egypt’s interim government?

My experiences have been extremely disheartening.  One of the first efforts to organise civil society after the ousting of President Morsi on 3 July 2013, was in Rabaa Square in Cairo and in other squares across Egypt. The sit-ins in these squares were in response to the military’s removal of Egypt’s first democratically elected President. These efforts ended in the bloody massacre by the security and army forces of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda sit-ins on 14 August 2013, killing an estimated 1000 people and which to this day have not been properly investigated. The months that followed the massacre showed a similarly heavy handed response from the interim government and the military against Morsi supporters, and the attitude of intolerance on behalf of government and government supporters towards the opposition has been evident in every aspect of civil life. The Muslim Brotherhood has now been banned and recently labelled a terrorist group. Most of its leaders have been imprisoned and their funds now managed by a commission established by the judiciary.

Protests taking place in universities around Egypt are being faced with force and students arrested by the state have been beaten and abused. On 30 March 2014 a student taking part in a protest at Alazhar University was killed while female activists in particular continue to be harassed in courts, police stations and prisons across the country. On 24 March 2014, 529 Egyptian, many of whom had protested Morsi’s removal, were convicted of the murder of officer Mostafa al-Attar and sentenced to death after a brief and heavily flawed trial. These events have sent Egypt many steps back on the path to democracy. The consequences of continuous military brutality against protesters, the still pending NGO law, new limitations on freedom of press, the disgraceful treatment of journalists and the increase in powers accorded to the military rulers (see Field Marshall Sisi’s recent public statement on running for President) do not come as a surprise from a regime that has a 60 year history of behaving in such an arbitrary way.

2. How free is the media and civil society in Egypt currently?

The media and civil society in Egypt are suffering. After the military assumed power and instituted an interim government, many TV channels were closed and several journalists killed. In the months that followed the Rabaa al-Adawiya massacre more journalists were arrested and killed. The arbitrary arrest of 40 journalists was reported in August 2013. Abdallah Alshamy of Aljazeera, is awaiting trial and has been on a hunger strike for more than 60 days now. Egyptian-Canadian Journalist Mohamed Fahmy, the chief of Aljazeera’s Cairo Office, lost complete use of his arm after consistently being denied treatment, and is among many prisoners who receive no medical care. Al Jazeera Australian correspondent Peter Greste, producer Baher Mohammed and 17 other journalists are also being tried in Egyptian courts for spreading ‘false news’. The accusations against them were read openly in court but no evidence was read out. Al Jazeera stated nine among those 17 are staff members. Their trail had been adjourned several times.

Protesters are now met with tear gas and live ammunition, and those who show association or sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood or anti-coup protestors are deemed terrorists. The states’ counter terrorism laws are being abused in a similar way to the emergency law under Mubarak’s office. These laws are implemented as a means to further increase state power and control over dissenters and opposition parties. In the same way, the pending NGO law as well as the Protest Law (approved in November 2013), violate basic principles of freedom of speech, thought and association. According to the Egyptian government 16,000 arrests took place since the law was passed, while civil society organisations estimate this figure to be between 19,000 -23,000.

3. Do you think the death sentence given to 529 Morsi supporters on 24 March 2014 is part of a larger crackdown on civil society and democratic freedoms in Egypt?

Indeed, the message the government wants to send is that it is prepared to take any measure in order to stop any kind of dissenting civil society mobilisation against military backed rule. The sentence was preceded days before by the case against an Egyptian police officer who was responsible for the death of 37 prisoners. The 37 were among 45 prisoners being moved to Abu Zabal prison under inhumane circumstance in a police truck.  The officer used a tear gas bomb inside the truck transporting them leading to the suffocation of all prisoners inside the tightly closed truck. The officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison with the sentence being suspended. This signifies a clear message of impunity towards actions committed by government forces.

4. What message would you like to share with the international community and concerned civil society groups?

A very important message at this time is that civil society groups across Africa and the Middle East share common challenges which need to be addressed in the regional context. Just as authoritarian governments support each other in their quest to limit civil society, civil society must also come together, across borders, in order to enhance civil society participation in the region. Furthermore, I call upon the international community in these regions and across the world to condemn these human rights abuses taking place every day in Egypt. These actions must be stopped before more horrendous events, such as the Rabaa al-Adawiya massacre, take place with impunity. An international investigation into this event in particular must be called for. Particular attention must be given to the journalists and media being persecuted now for their efforts to convey the truth.