Former Presidential Candidate Khaled Ali Referred to Trial Amid Wave of Arrests in Egypt

Lawyer and former presidential candidate, Khaled Ali, was sentenced to trial Wednesday in light of a complaint filed against him for public indecency. Ali was summoned for investigation and detained overnight on Tuesday amid a wave of arrests targeting members of political parties and groups over the past week.

He was released Wednesday morning on a 1,000 EGP bail and was meant to go to trial on Monday before a misdemeanors court, but the trail is postponed to July 3 at the request of the defense team to review the case documents. The complaint against him alleged that he used an indecent hand gesture following a court ruling over the controversial decision to transfer the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia.

The incident dates back to January 16, when Ali celebrated the ruling that confirmed Egypt’s sovereignty over the Red Sea Islands outside of the courtroom among supporters.

The security crackdown saw the arrest of around thirty people belonging to different opposition political parties and groups such as the Bread and Liberty Party––of which Ali is a founder––the Egyptian Social Democratic and Dostour Parties as well as the April 6 Youth Movement, political figures announced at a joint press conference last week.

The arrests were conducted across different governorates including Port Said, Suez, Luxor, Assiut and Minya. The detainees were apprehended for fifteen days pending investigation into charges of belonging to illegal groups, insulting the president, and spreading false information on social media aimed at creating instability.

The charges are likely based on the counterterrorism law ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in 2015, which imposes punishments for offenses related to terrorism, including five to seven years in prison for propagating ideas and beliefs calling for the use of violence via social media or other mediums.

The crackdown continued Wednesday with the arrest of two other members of the Dostour Party and a member of the Revolutionary Socialists in Mahalla and Qaluibiya respectively, but their whereabouts remain unknown, according to statements by their respective groups.

Last week, the Interior Ministry announced in a statement that it arrested forty people in cases related to inciting violence on social media.

According to Amnesty International, at least twenty-six people are still detained, two have been released on bail, and six others were released without bail; all pending investigations in connection with the same charges.

According to a joint statement by several political parties and figures, the security campaign coincides with the drafting of laws with harsher punishments against what is deemed “insulting the president and state figures and institutions,” as well as allow the monitoring of social media.

Proposed amendments to articles 179 and 184 of the Penal Code are meant to increase penalties for insulting the president to a minimum of one day and a maximum of three years in jail, along with a fine between 50,000 and 200,000 EGP. Parliament has indefinitely postponed the discussion of the proposal. The campaign aims to silence opposition voices and thwart any attempts for social or political mobility, especially as the date for the next presidential election nears. Although he had not made any official statement, Khaled Ali was expected to run in the 2018 elections, where Sisi is also expected to seek a second term in office.

In February, he told the Associated Press that he is considering challenging Sisi, but that the “legal and constitutional environment” of the elections are his main concern.

Thirteen political parties and groups drafted a joint statement; including the Dostour, the Karama Parties and the April 6 Youth Movement, and 155 political figures and activists; that this security campaign will only strengthen their resolve in seeking peaceful democratic change as well as guarantees for a free and fair election.

 “This attack is the regime’s first response to the party’s intention to support a candidate for the coming presidential elections in 2018, which [the] Sisi regime is determined to hold it in an environment marred by fear and state terrorism,” Amr Abdel Rahman, one of the founders of the Bread and Liberty Party, said in  statement.

“A farcical presidential race is what al-Sisi and his security bodies are engineering. And a farcical race is what we are determined to reject and abort,” he added.

In a statement last week, Ali himself said that the crackdown is targeting parties that have been active over the past year to spread fear and “thwart any attempt to revive political activism and reclaim public domain.”

Since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and the Sisi’s regime’s takeover in 2013, opposition political players have virtually ceased to exist in a shrinking public domain. While it is difficult to measure these parties’ influence in such a rigid political climate, young active members across different governorates now pose a threat to the government, especially in the run up to the presidential elections.

Ali was instrumental in the recent Supreme Administrative Court ruling which declared Egypt’s sovereignty over the Tiran and Sanafir Red Sea Islands. The court determined that the executive branch of Egypt’s government thus does not have the administrative authority to transfer the islands to Saudi Arabia.

The security crackdown comes as the Egyptian government on Wednesday moved to tighten its grip and block twenty-one websites it claims support terrorism and spread false information. The list included Al Jazeera, Mada Masr and the Huffington Post’s Arabic website, among others.

The move follows a similar one taken by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which also blocked Al Jazeera and other websites after a dispute with Qatar.

Earlier this week, Qatari official websites reported that the Qatari Emir criticized Donald Trump, described Iran as a force for stability in the region and threatened to withdraw ambassadors from a several Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia. Later, Qatar claimed its official websites had been hacked.

Dalia Rabie is a journalist and one of the co-founders of Mada Masr. Her work was featured in Daily News Egypt, Egypt Independent and Mada Masr where she worked as an editor and reporter.

Image: Photo: Security forces attempt to block Egyptian lawyer and ex-Presidential candidate Khaled Ali (C-R), who is marching in support of a ruling against the Egypt-Saudi border demarcation agreement, in front of the State Council courthouse in Cairo, Egypt, January 16, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany