In Selected Opinion

By the Editorial Board – The Washington Post –

On Saturday, Egypt’s authoritarian president pardoned Ahmed Douma, a blogger and protest leader who was one of the best-known faces of the 2011 Arab Spring. He had served a decade in prison. Days later, the authorities arrested Hisham Kassem, a prominent democracy activist and former publisher who was organizing opposition to the president, Abdel Fatah El-Sisi. So goes the carousel of repression in Egypt, holding thousands of political prisoners for months and years without trial, freeing a handful — and then taking in more.

The arrest of Mr. Kassem is particularly disturbing. He is the former chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and was previously publisher of Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent newspaper. In 2007, he was honored by the National Endowment for Democracy with its Democracy Award. He has been a strong advocate for independent journalism in Egypt and highly critical of Mr. Sisi’s military rule at a time when Egypt is in a deep economic crisis. Mr. Kassem told the BBC in July, “The change that needs to happen is not just about Sisi no longer being in power, but a restructuring of the Egyptian economy that cannot happen with the military in power.” He and others launched the four-party al-Tayar al-Hurr, or Free Current, a political coalition planning to oppose Mr. Sisi in next year’s elections.

He has repeatedly sought to expose corruption and denounce repression in Egypt, which clearly put him in the crosshairs of Mr. Sisi, the ex-general who took power (in) 2013 (..).

Mr. Kassem was initially detained on Sunday when accused of “libel and slander” by former labor minister Kamal Abu Eita. The prosecutor offered to release Mr. Kassem on bail for 5,000 Egyptian pounds, or about $160. Mr. Kassem refused to pay, saying the detention was unfair. On social media, he wrote, “I am more honorable than Abdel Fatah El-Sisi, and all of his men and his regime.” He was detained again on Monday, on charges of slander, defamation, assaulting a public servant, intentionally disturbing others and misusing social media, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

Mr. Sisi has tried to mask the horrors of Egypt’s human rights abuses. He announced a “national dialogue” with the opposition and has pardoned batches of prisoners, such as Mr. Douma and more than 30 others. But the releases are always followed by more unwarranted arrests and detentions. (..) The authorities use pretrial detention to hold protesters, journalists and dissidents for long periods without ever initiating formal charges.

Under law, $320 million of U.S. foreign military aid to Egypt is conditioned on improvement in its human rights record. The criteria include: making reforms that protect freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly; allowing independent media, civil society and human rights defenders to function without interference; holding security forces accountable; investigating and prosecuting cases of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearance; and releasing political prisoners and providing detainees with due process of law. A group of 11 House members including Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, have written to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the administration to withhold the full $320 million until Egypt’s record improves.

It is time to end the charade and demand real progress protecting human dignity and free expression in Egypt — including the release of Mr. Kassem and other political prisoners.


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