Egypt

President’s plan for state of emergency could further reduce space for dissent, said Atlantic Council’s Mirette Mabrouk

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi’s decision to impose a three-month state of emergency in response to deadly church bombings will likely further shrink the space for freedom of expression and dissent in Egypt, according to Mirette Mabrouk, director of research and programs at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“The space for freedom of expression and dissent in Egypt has already shrunk considerably. I can’t imagine that this is to going help,” said Mabrouk. The state of emergency, which must first be approved by parliament, would allow security forces to monitor people's social media and communications without permission, but after the president has issued a verbal or written order.

Sisi’s relationship with the United States grew frosty on US President Barack Obama’s watch amid concerns in Washington about the military coup that brought Sisi, then a general, to power on July 3, 2013, and the bloody crackdown that followed on August 14, 2013, which killed an estimated 817 peaceful demonstrators in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

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Eager to unlock the door to US-Arab cooperation on tackling regional issues following decades of disappointment with Washington’s lack of understanding of their concerns, three Arab leaders are engaging US President Donald Trump’s new administration over the next month.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met Trump at the White House on April 3; Jordan’s King Abdullah II will be in Washington on April 5; and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to follow later this month or in May. In their meetings, these leaders hope to discuss a number of issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the civil war in Libya, and the threat posed by global terrorist organizations.

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On February 14, Egypt’s parliament approved a limited cabinet reshuffle following weeks of anticipation. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said the reshuffle was aimed at continuing the government’s social and economic reform plans, and indeed, several of the changes reflect an effort to continue to build on major reforms. Ismail began meeting with candidates for cabinet posts in January, but a number of sources reported that several candidates up for positions in economic ministries declined offers from Ismail.

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On Thursday, February 9th, the doctors and lawyers working in the Al-Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims found that “a huge police force” had sealed their center and clinic with red wax and took their porter to the police station for questioning, the co-founders said in a statement.  Al-Nadeem is an NGO founded in 1993 that provides legal and psychological support for victims of violence and torture, including domestic and prison violence. The center is facing heavy harassment from Egyptian authorities since the Health Ministry issued a closure order and closed the center’s clinic for the first time in February 2016 on grounds that it was “breaching its license conditions.”

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US President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on January 27, barring refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries—Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Iran, and Iraq—from entering the United States for at least 90 days, leaving refugee and immigrant communities in limbo. Trump’s Executive Order also suspends the US refugee resettlement program for 120 days, indefinitely suspends Syrian refugee resettlement to the United States, and caps the number of all refugees admitted at 50,000 per year. On February 3, a Seattle federal judge temporarily blocked the travel ban, after which Cairo Airport issued a statement saying it will allow travelers from the seven countries to board flights to the United States. As the case makes its way through the courts, the future of Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese refugees in Cairo expecting to resettle in the United States, has now been called into question.

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As it enters its sixth year, the crisis in Libya shows no signs of abating. The UN-backed unity government seems to be teetering on the edge of collapse, and clashes threaten to escalate between eastern and western forces. Withdrawal from Libya could have negative consequences for western interests, and the United States—under the Trump administration—could take the lead in engaging with Libya to achieve stability. This engagement is key, not only for Libya’s stability, but for the stability of neighboring Egypt and Tunisia as well as US and European interests in the region.

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As Egypt marks the sixth anniversary of the revolutionary uprising of 2011, it is tempting in many quarters to view the country as having essentially reverted back to what the case was on January 25, 2010. In other words, the last six years never happened, and the political dispensation that underpins the current administration is basically Mubarak 2.0. But that would be misleading; basic presumptions and assumptions about Egypt internally, and Egypt internationally, are quite different indeed.

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Shortly after unprecedented jail terms were issued against leading members of Egypt’s Press Syndicate, President AbdelFattah al-Sisi approved a new press law, sparking further concern over the future of a relatively independent media in the country.

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On December 11 at approximately 10 AM, Cairo time, a bomb ripped through the St. Paul and St. Peter Church in the Cairo district of Abassiya, killing 25 and injuring over 50 worshipers. Eyewitnesses described to local media a harrowing scene of devastation Cairo’s citizens haven’t felt in a long time. The explosion, which reportedly came from the direction of the women’s pews, caused the roof to partially collapse and knocked worshipers standing outside its walls to the ground. Most of the victims were women and children. There is no doubt the perpetrators intended mass carnage. 

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Mohamed Zarie, the director of Egypt's program at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, doesn’t mince words when talking about Egypt’s new NGO law. He describes it as a death blow and a declaration of war. The law, which was approved in a record two weeks by the House of Representatives, imposes severe restrictions and tougher penalties for violators who could face up to five years in prison and hefty fines.

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