In Sisi’s Egypt, you’re lucky if you only get arrested

I’ve got a new piece at LobeLog looking at the arrest and detention of Egyptian journalist Hossam Bahgat last weekend. Bahgat evidently angered the Egyptian military in October with an investigative piece about a couple dozen officers who appear to have been railroaded, complete with coerced confessions, into guilty verdicts in a case about an alleged coup plot against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Each of the officers appears to have some Muslim Brotherhood-y proclivities, which probably explains why they were arrested and “convicted” of planning to overthrow Sisi, despite the lack of any real evidence that they were actually planning to do that.

Bahgat was held, questioned, and made to sign some kind of pledge to only Do Journalism when the government says it’s OK, which is awful enough. But the fact is that in Egypt these days, things could be a lot worse:

As terrible as their experiences must have been, Bahgat, Greste, Fahmy, and Mohamed can count themselves among the lucky few who have been swept up by Sisi’s security establishment and eventually released. A report by Sophie McBain in the New Statesman in October highlighted an epidemic of disappearances perpetrated by Egyptian police.

The Freedom for the Brave group—a loose network of activists, lawyers and detainees’ families that monitors such cases—recorded that Egyptian security forces secretly detained 163 people between April and June this year. Hanish, a member of the group, said that the figure could be higher, as some families are too afraid to speak out. Another local NGO, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, announced in August that it had recorded 1,250 cases since January. Sometimes, the disappeared are eventually located in a jail or at a police station. Often, new arrivals at a prison will find an inmate who is expecting a visit and ask them to pass on their name, family contact details, and a short message. Families can be left waiting for days, weeks or months for news of missing relatives. Discovering that they are in prison is one of the better possible outcomes: occasionally, the disappeared resurface dead.

It’s not only the disappeared who wind up dead. All told, Sisi’s forces have killed over 2,600 Egyptians since the coup that ousted former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. They have imprisoned over 41,000 people.

LobeLog also published a piece by scholar Emile Nakhleh yesterday that takes a wider view of Sisi’s regime and argues that it’s “teetering,” already exhibiting signs of decay:

Sisi has surrounded himself with sycophants—both civilian and military—pliant and parroting media, hangers-on from the old regime, and academics, advisers, former diplomats, think tankers, and domestic and foreign consultants eager to maintain their access to the government. Patriots and human rights activists like Hossam Bahgat are rapidly becoming an endangered species in Egypt. Freedoms of thought, speech, and expression were more tolerated and even exercised, albeit under strict state regulations, during the previous Mubarak regime.

Muzzling all forms of dissent, no matter how repulsive, might create a facade of normalcy, which carries the regime only so far. In time, however, regime-messaging devoid of substance becomes stale and unappealing to Western governments whose support Sisi desperately needs.

Nakhleh goes on to contend that Sisi is even going to start burning through his support among the Gulf states, his most reliable pals and financial backers, owing in part to the fact that he’s not nearly as interested in seeing Bashar al-Assad removed from power as they are. His best move would be to stop treating the Muslim Brotherhood as indistinguishable from Wilayat Sinai and other violent Salafi groups and bring them back out of the shadows and into the political process. That will undercut some of the jihadists’ rationale while opening up and stabilizing Egyptian politics, which might allow Sisi and his government a chance to try to salvage Egypt’s economy before its weakness does to him what it did to Hosni Mubarak and (in part) Mohamed Morsi. Somehow I don’t see it happening.

"That's outrageous; democracy is wonderful! Without democracy I could not have won 133% of the vote in our last election!"
“Nonsense, Egyptian society is already very open — people are free to love me in whatever way they choose.”

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