Disenchantment grows in Egypt as democratic hopes recede

By Mona Salem, AFP

CAIRO, Egypt — Three years after huge crowds of Egyptians rallied to oust Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, democratic hopes have given way to a spiraling crackdown on freedoms in the name of stability. On June 30, 2013, millions took to the streets of Cairo and other cities to call for the removal of Morsi, whose rule had been deeply divisive. Their hopes were fulfilled on July 3 when the army stepped in for the second time in less than three years to remove a president following mass protests — only unlike veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Morsi had been democratically elected. Now that former military chief Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has become president, the state tolerates no more protests, and little criticism.

“When I look back on June 30, 2013, I feel that we were deceived and deployed by part of the state,” prominent rights lawyer Gamal Eid said. For secular activists, there were initial hopes after the military installed a government with former chief judge Adly Mansour as interim president and a liberal economist as prime minister. But in the months that followed, security services moved to crush Morsi’s Islamist supporters, detaining the ex-president and thousands of members of his Muslim Brotherhood. The crackdown reached its pinnacle on August 14 when police shot dead hundreds of Islamists at a protest camp in Cairo during clashes — the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history.

Protests Banned More than 40 policemen were killed across the country that day by Islamists, and the event helped inflame a jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds of policemen and soldiers. In May the next year el-Sissi was elected president with almost 97 percent of a vote boycotted by the Brotherhood and secular dissidents. Few prominent non-Islamists spoke out during the crackdown, embittered by the Islamists’ hapless and heavy-handed time in power and sectarian rhetoric. But after moving on from crushing the Islamists, security services began jailing left-leaning dissidents who had helped spark the 2011 uprising that deposed Mubarak. Three years later, activists like Eid say little remains of the democratic ideals that had swept the most-populous Arab country. Protesters were used three years ago “not to topple the Brotherhood and to begin establishing a democratic system, but in the interest of the military — which is part of the Mubarak regime — to take over power,” said Eid, the executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

He is among several civil society activists accused of receiving illegal foreign funding and banned from leaving the country. Protests are now banned unless they are approved by the police. Calling for one can get an Egyptian jailed, as can posting an amateurish video on Facebook poking fun at the president, or wearing a T-shirt denouncing torture.

‘Worst in history’ Hundreds of Islamists, including Morsi, have been sentenced to death in mass trials so hastily convened that dead people and a toddler were mistakenly included among the defendants, lawyers say. “Today, and without exaggeration, the human rights situation is the worst in Egypt’s modern history,” said Eid, whose group estimates that authorities are holding some 60,000 political prisoners, mostly Islamists.