By Isla Lamont
As the anniversary of the Arab Spring approaches, Egypt is growing restless.
Human rights groups have accused President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of arresting and imprisoning his critics and political opponents. Muting the dissidents gives spectators reason to believe that Sisi is expecting protests and other sources of conflict.
Time Magazine reports that in recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have raided dozens of Cairo apartments and publishing houses. Egyptian security officials said that more than 500 homes were searched, but the statement has not been verified. Most of the raids and arrests are happening late in the night. Time has also confirmed the arrest of a doctor and activist patrons of a public cafe, as well as the closing of an art gallery.
Egyptian cartoonist Islam Gawish was arrested Sunday during a raid of a news website office. He has been charged with “running a website without a license.” Although Gawish is not considered a “vehement critic” of Sisi, he is a satirical cartoonist whose Facebook page has 1.6 million followers. In October, another cartoonist was sentenced to three years in jail for posting a cartoon of Sisi wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
On Wednesday, Italian graduate student Giulio Regeni’s body was found on a remote road outside Cairo leading to Alexandria. He was naked from the bottom down with small stab marks, cigarette burns, head injuries, and other signs of torture consistent with past cases of Egyptian security forces using excessive violence. His case is still under investigation and there have been no charges made. Regeni’s family is concerned because he disappeared on January 25, the anniversary of the 2011 revolt.
Security around Tahrir Square, the iconic center of the 2011 political demonstrations and revolt, has since been increased. The government has appointed clerics to preach against public dissent. Some remaining activists and human rights organizers have gone in to hiding. To date, Sisi has jailed over one thousand political critics.
Nearly 70 public figures have condemned Sisi’s actions, making a joint statement on Facebook: “The Egyptian regime is deploying the same practices that led to the Jan. 25 glorious revolution. Freedoms are seized, pluralism is barred and security authorities rule and control everything.”
According to the Los Angeles Times, the same day of the post, Facebook announced that a new program that had been providing free basic Internet service to more than 3 million Egyptians had been shut down.
Abu Bakr Abdel Karim of the Interior Ministry announced that two Facebook administrators have been arrested. One was a 26-year-old man who managed 41 Facebook pages, and the other a 22-year-old woman who was the administrator for six sites. Their crimes were identified as managing pages inciting protests and publicly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is an outlawed political and religious party which played a large part in the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring. It is the world’s oldest Islamist movement, and although they originally did not support the 2011 revolt, they eventually became the most popular political group during the country’s first free parliamentary elections after the uprisings. In 2013, Sisi designated the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization and outlawed their existence. He also passed an anti-terrorism law in August that legalized the death penalty for over a dozen offences and includes punishments for online crimes.
The country has been in a permanent state of discontent even after the 2011 overthrowing of the Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His replacement was Mohamed Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood official, and viewed by the people as an equally unfavorable ruler. Mass protests followed his short term as well, resulting in the ascension of Sisi, who was the military chief behind Mursi’s exit. All three rulers have been subject to rumors of varying volume regarding the legitimacy of their respective elections.