Five Years After Tahrir Square, there is “stability” in Egypt but do not ask at what price

January 28, 2016

Five years ago, human rights defender Ahmed Abdullah was among thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets for 18 days of mass protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, eventually forcing then-President Hosni Mubarak to step down and the security forces to retreat. Today, Ahmed is on the run. He dodged arrest by the thinnest of margins on January 9, after plainclothes police in Cairo raided his regular coffee shop. The NGO which he chairs, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, had recently exposed a surge in enforced disappearances, which has seen hundreds vanish at the hands of state security forces over the last year alone. He is not the only one whose activism has put him at risk. In recent weeks, security forces have been rounding up activists linked to protests and journalists critical of the government’s record. This how Amnesty International starts its assessment of the fifth anniversary and it concludes: “Five years since the uprising that ousted Mubarak, Egypt is once more a police state. The country’s ubiquitous state security body, the National Security Agency, is firmly in charge.”

The same sentiment is echoed in the long piece in the Huffington Post of 25 January 2016 by Karim Lahidji, President of FIDH and Bahey eldin Hassan, Director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.


The international community’s support given to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s regime is primarily based on the notion that his regime maintains stability in the country. President Sisi keeps assuring that he is leading a successful war on terrorism; however the country is facing more security threats and instability than it did in 2013.  Terrorist attacks have intensified to an average of over 100 per month in 2015, compared to 30 attacks per month in 2014. The attacks have also spread from Sinai to other cities including Cairo. In addition to documented testimonies of the ongoing radicalization taking place inside Egyptian prisons, other testimonies, such as the one given by a leader of a prominent Sinai tribe, describes how the regime’s policy is turning the Muslim Brotherhood into a recruitment pool for ISIS. Moreover, the claimed counterterrorism efforts are deliberately targeting the wrong groups: the regime’s security resources are fully occupied, not with combating terrorism, but with combating the opposition. The crucial role played by independent civil society in the revolution and its aftermath have made it a threat to a regime that rules with unchecked powers.

In January 2016, a security source admitted that the primary targets of raiding 5,000 apartments in downtown Cairo, were pro-democracy young activists. Secular peaceful activists are sentenced on charges ranging from illegal protest or belonging to a terrorist organization to threatening public peace and security. Some are held in pre-trial detention for years, without being charged or seeing a judge. Through the unprecedented crackdown Egypt is witnessing, the regime, with all its apparatuses, is penalizing all forms of peaceful dissent and gradually shutting down public space in Egypt. Secular youth activists, protesters, members, supporters, or alleged supports of the Muslim Brotherhood, human rights defenders, journalists and average apolitical citizens, are currently languishing behind bars under inhumane conditions. Thousands of persons have been sentenced, including death sentences, in kangaroo courts under laws that not only violate Egypt’s international human rights obligations but also the 2014 Egyptian constitution. The judiciary has played an instrumental role in sustaining this injustice where it has failed to guarantee the basic rights of fair trial and due process. Civilians continue to be tried before military courts, in violation of international human rights law. 

…..Despite the claims of President Sisi that Egypt is witnessing an unprecedented climate of free speech, the current regime has become more repressive than its predecessors whereas it does not tolerate any form of dissent or challenge of the official narrative. At least 23 journalists are currently imprisoned making Egypt now the second worst country jailer of journalists worldwide. These policies have led to a total erosion of confidence in the State and the rule of law. Public figures that criticize the regime are prevented from appearing on TV talk-shows, holding public talks, and getting published in newspapers. The country is also witnessing a wave of labor strikes across the country demanding higher wages. Civil society organizations continue to work in an increasingly shrinking space where human rights organizations face smearing campaigns by the pro-government media, ongoing investigations over foreign funding, and travel bans against human rights defenders. ………

The regime’s oppressing of peaceful secular activists, peaceful Islamists, and apolitical citizens, as well as closing down legitimate political channels and cultural spaces, is fueling radicalization in Egypt and further complicates the fight against terrorism, leaving very little room for the prospect of long term stability. 

In order to address the regime’s counterproductive measures leading to mass radicalization and instability, the international community must pressure President Sisi to immediately put an end to the ongoing human rights violations. As President Sisi travels to EU capitals, EU leaders should make it a priority to raise human rights issues with him, publicly and privately, and require the immediate release of those detained for exercising their fundamental human rights….logo FIDH_seul

[The full FIDH report at:]

Also on the fifth anniversary of the mass protests at Tahrir Square, the USA-based NGO Human Rights First released a new blueprint that examines conditions in Egypt, the strengths and shortcomings of the U.S. response to instability and human rights challenges in the country, and provides recommendations for how the U.S. government can support civil society and strengthen respect for human rights. The blueprint titled “How to Navigate Egypt’s Enduring Human Rights Crisis,” draws on dozens of interviews with Egyptian human rights defenders, civil society activists, journalists, academics, families of detainees, lawyers, government officials, and others conducted during a research trip in January 2016. Since those early days of hope Egypt has been in a virtually constant state of political upheaval, and U.S. government’s policy towards the crisis has often been opaque and seemingly confused,” wrote Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley.
HRF logo

Key recommendations for the U.S. government in the blueprint include:

  • Publicly withhold support for authoritarian leaders in Cairo (in concert with other like-minded governments if possible), when the government fails to protect universal rights, even if in the short-term other interests might suffer;
  • Refrain from making assertions or certifications about democratic progress that have no basis in reality;
  • Consistently emphasize the importance of freedom of expression, association, and assembly in high-level bilateral discussions, as an integral part of any return to credible, inclusive civilian democratic politics;
  • Carry out a comprehensive reassessment of the aid relationship with Egypt, including: rebalancing military and civilian assistance; reviewing the ways in which military assistance is spent; and developing ways that U.S. assistance could be better employed to meet the basic needs of the Egyptian people;
  • Closely evaluate and produce reports on the use of military aid which has been reinstated to Egypt;
  • Press for reform in laws governing the functioning of NGOs to free them from government interference, burdensome registration requirements, and foreign funding restrictions;
  • Send trial observers from the U.S. Embassy to politically-motivated trials of human rights defenders, if the defender so wishes, and issue public statements on the fairness of proceedings; and
  • Push back forcefully against efforts to limit media freedom through legal reforms or enforcement practices.


In the meantime the pressure under which human rights defenders have to work is illustrated by the pressure put on the makers of a video produced on 25 January, in which they distributed ‘condom balloons’ to policemen at Tahrir Square. Actor Ahmed Malik and TV reporter Shady Hussein Abu Zaid were severely threatened by local media and the prosecutor general’s office received an official complaint Tuesday, filed against Malik and Abu Zaid accusing them of “insulting and offending police personnel and institutions”, according to the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE).

Human rights’ lawyer Malek Adly defended the young men on the grounds that what they did falls under the “freedom of creativity”, and other freedoms of expression guaranteed by the constitution. “We should not be ashamed of what they did,” Adly wrote on his personal Facebook account. “At least we do not steal, murder or conceal corruption. We do not lie or submit. Go look for those wearing explosive belts, and leave us with our condoms, as they do not kill anyone.


A shaken Malik issued a public apology Tuesday, asking for “forgiveness” in TV statements on the Mehwar channel. “As I clearly stated, I regret the manner in which my ideas were expressed and how the video was taken by the public. I had no intentions of harming anybody, and I hope that people stop insulting me in return and accept my explanation for the mistake”.

On the other hand, Abu Zaid, who worked for the satirical TV programme Abla Fahita, refrained from expressing any regrets following his colleague’s claims. “Why is everybody angry? I was joking,” he claimed in a statement published on his Facebook account. “I have no regrets in taking part in the revolution of 25 January 2011… I have seen it all … the killings, the beatings, and all sorts of violations security forces committed. In the absence of justice, I became depressed for a very long time… eventually we were even banned from expressing our opinions, we were forbidden from protesting under threat of imprisonment. Most people stopped talking politics, trying to forget the revolution, but the truth is that they won’t, they can’t, just as nobody can speak up anymore, everyone is terrified, myself included,” Abu Zaid wrote. Abu Zaid easily obtained the support of young activists, such as Sanaa Seif, who replied to Abu Zaid’s post with the simple phrase of “right you are”.

Front Line Defenders has also issued regular appeals on Egyptian human rights defenders, see:

For my earlier posts on Egypt see:

Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped


Five Years After Tahrir Square, Blueprint Outlines Recommendations to Support Stability in Egypt | Human Rights First

2 Responses to “Five Years After Tahrir Square, there is “stability” in Egypt but do not ask at what price”

  1. […] rights organizations and the media around the world were remembering Egypt‘s Tahrir Square […] the space for demonstrations in Egypt itself was minimal. But a huge exception was made on 13 […]

  2. […] Due to heavy security measures Monday could turn out to be a non-event, but recent action indicates a state of nervousness by the regime [see also:…%5D: […]

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