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President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi used his annual “Egyptian Family Iftar” to expound his plan for a political dialogue on national priorities.

  • Al-Sisi said that representatives of civil society, politicians, and youth groups will be invited to the dialogue, with “no exclusion or discrimination.” He furthermore promised to personally attend the final sessions of the dialogue, adding that its recommendations would be referred to parliament and potentially drafted into legislation.
  • “I personally wanted this to happen earlier, but priorities led to its postponement,” the president claimed. In addition, he insisted that the nation “accommodates everyone” and that differences of opinion are to be celebrated—a statement that might be challenged by the many individuals languishing in Egyptian prisons merely for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
  • Al-Sisi’s call for a dialogue—as well as the recent releases of political prisoners, discussed below—are reportedly part of an effort to assuage the public and head off protests as rising prices and regional crises stoke public frustration. Such fears of public unrest also account for recent controversial restrictions on Ramadan prayers, according to some analysts.

During the iftar gathering, al-Sisi also declared himself delighted by the Public Prosecution’s decision to release 41 political prisoners from pretrial detention, of whom some two dozen have walked free so far. 

  • One of those is Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms researcher Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, who was arrested in June 2019, forcibly disappeared for nearly six months, tortured, and subjected to case recycling in order to keep him in pretrial detention past the two-year legal maximum, all in retaliation for his human rights work.
  • Also released today was journalist Hossam Moanis, who received a four-year prison sentence in November when he was convicted alongside fellow journalist Hisham Fouad and former parliamentarian Ziad el-Elaimy. They were all arrested in June 2019 as part of the Hope Coalition case. Moanis, Fouad, and el-Elaimy were some of the prisoners whose release several opposition figures reportedly demanded in return for their participation in the iftar.
  • Al-Sisi ordered the reactivation of the Presidential Pardon Committee, which was formed in 2016 and helped to secure several amnesties but petered out in the following years. The committee said it would soon be drafting a new list, in conjunction with the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the House of Representatives’ Human Rights Committee, of imprisoned youth that it will recommend be pardoned. 
  • The NCHR, for its part, called for improving the conditions and procedures of pretrial detention.

Even as the president sought to demonstrate that his regime has turned over a new leaf, other developments offered further confirmation of its unrelentingly abusive nature.

  • Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali revealed yesterday that Hala Fahmy, a state TV presenter who has emerged as an outspoken government critic and advocate for striking state media workers, was detained two days earlier on charges of spreading false news and joining a terrorist group. She was arrested shortly after posting videos about being followed by strangers for several days.
  • Fahmy was first interrogated at the Supreme State Security Prosecution on April 24 without her lawyers being informed. Safaa al-Korbagy, another state media journalist who has participated in the Maspero protests, was detained on the same charges the day before.
  • Ali, Fahmy’s lawyer, is also demanding a retrial for Strong Egypt Party President Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh. Ali says that leaked video footage shown in a hagiographic TV series celebrating al-Sisi’s rise to power confirms Aboul-Fotouh was not connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, as prosecutors have alleged. The emergency court’s verdict in Aboul-Fotouh’s trial is expected on May 29.

Rights groups and politicians are also continuing to call for investigations into the death of economist Ayman Hadhoud in state custody. 

  • Reform and Development Party head Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, for whom Hadhoud served as an adviser, said that there are “too many question marks” in authorities’ flimsy explanation for Hadhoud’s death. 
  • Activist Abdelrahman “Mocha” Tarek, meanwhile, was transferred to the hospital as his health continued to deteriorate due to his hunger strike, which he began in February to protest his two and a half years in pretrial detention.

Finally, al-Sisi made a number of other noteworthy announcements during the televised iftar yesterday.

  • Al-Sisi spoke extensively on the depths of the country’s current economic crisis and his plans for Egypt to emerge from it. As for the military’s stranglehold on large segments of the economy, he ordered the government to list military-owned enterprises on the Egyptian stock exchange by the end of the year. (Previous efforts to do so have come to little.) He also told government officials to set a target of $10 billion in private-sector investment in state-owned assets for each of the next four years.
  • Additionally, al-Sisi revealed that Egypt “has lost 3277 martyrs during our battle confronting terrorism,” the first time a government official has provided such a figure.
  • The president also spoke in support of his predecessor, former President Mohamed Morsi—the same Morsi who died in al-Sisi’s prison system in 2019 as a result of intentional medical neglect.
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