Factbox-Egypt's election follows long crackdown on dissent


  • World
  • Saturday, 09 Dec 2023

An Egyptian man walks next to a banner of presidential candidate and current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi next to the construction site of a monorail line at the New Administrative Capital (NAC) in the desert east of Cairo, Egypt December 8, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo

(Reuters) - Egypt holds a presidential election on Dec. 10-12 in which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to secure six more years in power. The vote comes after a decade-long crackdown on dissent that has seen critics from across the political spectrum jailed.

Authorities say the crackdown was needed to stabilise Egypt and that it targeted extremists and saboteurs working to undermine the state.

They say Egypt has taken measures to expand political participation and protect rights, including the launch of a five-year human rights strategy and a national dialogue, and modernisation of prisons. Critics have dismissed the steps as largely cosmetic, saying abuses continue.

Here is a look at some high-profile human rights cases in Egypt, a close U.S. ally which denies allegations of arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances.

BLOODY CAIRO SIT-IN

In 2013, Sisi led the military's overthrow of democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi after protests against his rule. Hundreds of supporters of the Brotherhood, Egypt's oldest and most organised Islamist movement, were killed and thousands arrested. Senior Brotherhood leaders were sentenced to death in what human rights groups call unfair trials. Others were driven underground or abroad.

In one of the bloodiest events in Egypt's recent history, security forces crushed the protest camps of thousands of supporters of the deposed Mursi in 2013, shooting hundreds. Rights groups say more than 800 protesters died.

Human Rights Watch said the raids were systematic, ordered by top officials and probably amounted to crimes against humanity.

Egypt's government said the report was "characterised by negativity and bias" and relied on anonymous witnesses rather than neutral sources. Egyptian officials, who call the Brotherhood a terrorist group, have repeatedly said some protesters were armed and fired at police and soldiers.

The Brotherhood denies using violence for political ends.

PROTEST LAW

In 2013 Egypt passed a law which bans protests without prior police approval. The measure brought strong concern from rights groups about the course of the army-backed government installed after Mursi's ouster.

The United States expressed concern over the new law restricting demonstrations, and said it agreed with groups that argue the law does not meet international standards.

CAPTURED ON FILM

An Egyptian police officer was charged over the shooting of a young mother at a protest in central Cairo, weeks after a photograph of her bleeding to death went viral and caused an international outcry in 2015.

Shaimaa Sabbagh, 32, was shot at a march marking the anniversary of the uprising that ousted veteran ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The public prosecutor said she was killed by an officer who fired birdshot to try to disperse the protest.

Sisi responded to the fury over Sabbagh's killing by referring to her as "my daughter" and "the daughter of Egypt", and promised to bring her killers to justice. The officer was sentenced to seven years in prison on appeal.

STUDENT

Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose research had stirred suspicion in the security services, disappeared in Cairo in January 2016. His body was found almost a week later and a post-mortem examination showed he had been tortured before his death.

Intelligence and security sources told Reuters in 2016 that police had arrested Regeni outside a Cairo metro station and then transferred him to a compound run by national security. The police have denied this and Egyptian officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Regeni's killing.

Prosecutors in Italy have been trying to hold a trial against four senior members of Egypt's security services in absentia over their suspected role in the case.

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

In 2018, an Egyptian court put former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh on a terrorism list after his arrest for alleged contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood. Aboul Fotouh's family say they are worried that his health is failing in prison.

ANTI-GRAFT CHIEF

A military court sentenced Egypt's former anti-corruption chief to five years in prison in 2018 on charges of spreading false news harmful to the military, his lawyer said.

Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentencing of Hisham Genena, a former policeman and judge, as another example of what it called Egypt's crackdown on all dissent under Sisi.

Genena was released earlier this year.

ACTIVIST

In 2021, prominent Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison after being tried on charges of spreading fake news.

Abdel Fattah, a leading figure in the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak after three decades in power, had previously been imprisoned for five years in 2014 and released in 2019.

He remains in jail despite a high-profile campaign by his family for his release, during a hunger strike that they said left him close to death as Egypt hosted the COP27 climate summit in 2022.

SOCIAL MEDIA POST

A court in 2021 found leading human rights activist Hossam Bahgat guilty of insulting a judicial election commission in a social media post. Since 2016, Bahgat has been banned from travelling abroad and has had his personal assets frozen in connection with a separate, decade-long criminal investigation.

Western countries have called on Egypt to end the prosecution of activists, journalists and perceived political opponents under counter-terrorism laws, and to release them unconditionally.

Human rights groups estimate tens of thousands of people have been detained for political reasons since 2013. Sisi has said Egypt holds no political prisoners, that security is paramount and that the government is promoting human rights by working to provide basic needs such as jobs and housing.

Some high-profile prisoners have recently been pardoned, including activist Ahmed Douma, lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer and researcher Patrick Zaki, though rights groups say arrests have continued.

RESEARCHER

The death of economic researcher Ayman Hadhoud required a "thorough, transparent and credible" investigation, the U.S. State Department said, after Hadhoud died in 2022 in a Cairo psychiatric hospital where he had been sent by the security services that detained him.

Amnesty International said its investigation, based on official records, witness interviews and independent experts who examined leaked photos of Hadhoud's corpse, strongly suggested he had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated before his death.

Egypt's public prosecution said it has found no evidence of criminal violence in Hadhoud's death.

(Compiled by Michael Georgy and Aidan Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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