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Repression Won't Contain Egypt's Imminent Unrest

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 10/03/2016 Nancy Okail

In the wake of increasing reports on unprecedented repression in Egypt, the EU is voting today on a resolution condemning current atrocities. Vacillating between threat and apology, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's speech himself admitted last month presenting his strategy for 2030 that he is highly alarmed and aware of the current outrage in Egyptian streets, particularly due to police brutality. Additionally, strong criticism from his previous avid supporters are indicative of the serious current tension and the internal political rift within the country. Meanwhile, the US continues to misread the situation sticking to the same old policies, assuming this government is capable of maintaining stability.
In fear of a growing popular dissent, Egypt's sweeping crackdown on free expression has intensified over the past few months to an unprecedented level, including apolitical targets. Last week week, four Coptic minors were sentenced to five years in jail on blasphemy charges over a Facebook post, while, novelist Ahmed Naji was sentenced to two years in prison for his sexually explicit fiction.
These cases are neither an aberration nor new to the government's broad repressive campaign, but the recent escalations are indicative of a regime fighting for survival in the face of growing resentment and crumbling support due to its inability to deliver on promises of security and economic development. Alarmingly, protests are not only gaining massive support through formal organized channels like the doctors and press syndicates firm stands against repression, but also spontaneous protests erupt sporadically around the country. This has driven President Sisi to call for "legislative amendments to be introduced to stop irresponsible acts by police officers."
However, there is no evidence that such legislation will be effective. Almost all officers who have been charged in killing, abuse, and torture cases since 2011 have been acquitted, had guilty verdicts overturned, or been given suspended sentences and returned to their jobs. Instead of taking concrete steps to reform the security sector, the government has focused the blame on low-ranking police officers as a deviant group.
Such cosmetic statements and apologies will not resolve the current quagmire, as the internal power dynamic is far more complex than just an extended trend of repression. The police will not back down; there is a deliberate escalation in the level of brutality and repression, sending two clear messages. On one hand, the police are sending the regime a message that they will not be scapegoated or accept criticism and that their brutality is essential for their protection. On the other hand, it is a strong message to the public that any form of dissent will be faced with maximum aggression, including torture and killing. Such dynamics will only drive the country into a vicious circle of violence. ‪While the police posture, previously supportive figures have started to publicly criticize the escalation of repression, a sign of increased political fragmentation amongst power elites. ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬
Despite multiple sources of support and funding from the U.S., the E.U., and the Gulf, the regime has been unable to deliver on its promises of security and economic growth. The assumption that Egypt is stable is certainly flawed. Even with regards to the proclaimed war on terror, the latest Egypt Security Watch report shows that terror attacks persist despite heightened security measures; despite slowing from their height in early 2015, attacks remain 50% higher than their average in 2014. It does not help that the country is facing real economic challenges, requiring potential austerity measures which will further fuel anger.
For its part, the United States seems content to rebuild its ties with Egypt. Amid this wave of repression and brutality, at his testimony at the Senate Appropriations Committee about the removal of aid conditions on human rights, Secretary John Kerry acknowledged the concern over the current wave of repression but at the same time, asserted there is a major security challenge and that US should balance its interest in Egypt.
As Egypt continues to destabilize with turbulent internal dynamics, the U.S. and the international community should reexamine a policy approach that favors military cooperation at the expense of those struggling for real change. While the U.S. will undoubtedly continue its security relationship in the framework of fighting terrorism in the region, it is crucial to urge the Egyptian government to take specific steps towards relaxing its crackdown and allowing space for peaceful expression. Without transparent investigations and accountability for human rights violations the current signs of instability will only intensify. Restrictive legislation in Egypt criminalizes foreign support for non-governmental actors and Egyptian intellectuals increasingly face various forms of restrictions. The U.S. should push back on the isolation of the human rights and academic community as a force that should be neither undermined nor repressed, but rather engaged as allies in seeking progress toward reform and stability.

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