CAIRO: A hundred days have passed since President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power, bringing with him a new vision, strategy and standards, but also widespread criticism of continuing a poor human rights legacy inherited from his predecessors and charges he has sought to outlaw potential political challengers and silence critical press.
Following the January 25 Revolution, former President Mohamed Morsi came to power in 2012 promising to solve Egypt’s problems of “security, traffic, bread, sanitation and fuel,” but his administration became a failure in the eyes of much of Egypt beyond his core supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party. This would lead to his downfall on June 30 when the military—led by Sisi and claiming it was acting on behalf of millions of protesters in the streets—overthrew Morsi.
Following the interim presidency of Adly Mansour—chosen by Sisi to lead—Sisi stood for the presidency in May and won in a landslide, seemingly more popular than ever. He took office on June 8.
Criticisms of his presidency, however, include the continued enforcement and support of the 2013 Protest Law, and the dispersal of the Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Square sit-ins. The latter occurred before he became president while he was interim defense minister, but are events he has defended nonetheless.
Independent human rights groups have said the dispersals may have killed upwards of 1,000 people. Hunger strike campaigns conducted by activists against political detentions and frustration over a lack of parliamentary elections promised in the 2013 Roadmap have also drawn ire. According to the 2013 Roadmap, new Parliament elections are supposed to take place by the end of the year.
However, an improvement in relations with Ethiopia regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the strong inflow of foreign aid from the Gulf—which besides Qatar heavily favors Sisi—and the commencement of the Suez Canal expansion project have all reflected positively on his presidency.
How is Sisi with politics?
As a candidate, Sisi said he favored youth movements and youth involvement in politics. However, these views have not made an obvious transition into his presidency.
He has always been more focused on economic development; popularizing the saying “It’s time to work.” This is something the former military general takes seriously, as he is known for waking up early. One of his ads during the campaign used the slogan, “Working is all I got and all I’m asking for.”
But in terms of specific political vision, Sisi never mentioned any political argument in his meetings or interviews while campaigning, and although maintaining a hardline stance on defense and internal security, has remained aloof on most major political issues.
“We are living in a politics-free period since electing Sisi,” said George Ishaq, a member of the Civic Democratic Current Alliance, in comments to Al-Hadas Al-Masry television program Sept. 10.
Many political movements have said they believe Sisi just ignores them, especially regarding the increasingly unpopular 2013 Protest Law.
Is Sisi supporting any of the revolutionary movements?
Hunger strike campaigns under the titles “The Battle of the Empty Stomach,” “We’ve Had Enough,” “Journalists Against the Protest Law” and “We Die to Live” have demanded the end of the 2013 Protest Law and the release of political detainees.
Activists, however, have said they are just being ignored by the Sisi administration; this despite the fact their movements are growing.
Some activists thought if they addressed the president directly something would change, but this has not worked.
Nourhan Hefzy, the wife of hunger-striking imprisoned activist Ahmed Doma, has tweeted and posted on Facebook for months saying her husband’s condition is worsening—even describing him as a skeleton—but to little avail from authorities.
She wrote an open letter addressed to Sisi published by Youm7 on Sept. 15. In it she said she and the president used to “share a revolution,” and her husband didn’t steal, kill, torture or commit any other crime that would deserve 10 months in jail.
Freedom of expression
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) issued a statement on Sept. 20 about the freedom of expression during the first 100 days of Sisi’s rule, in which it wrote, “Freedom of expression in Egypt is about to be something of the past.”
The report included specific statistics and numbers collected by ANHRI lawyers about the number of human rights violations under the Sisi administration. It appears below.
The report, however, did say that least no journalists have been killed since Sisi became president.
Politics inside universities
Under Mansour, and continuing under Sisi, a number of firm instructions were issued banning any political activity or demonstrations for both students and faculty members at universities, especially at Al-Azhar and Cairo Universities.
Minister of Higher Education Sayed Abdel Khaleq said during a meeting Aug. 12 that the next academic year would have major changes concerning the priorities of student activists due to last year’s events, referring to clashes between students and security forces during political protests. He said the ban of political activities and agendas was for maintaining security on university campuses and the stability of the education process.
That decision was widely condemned by NGOs. ANHRI research head Lamiaa Mahmoud told The Cairo Post last August that there are many alternative solutions to secure universities other than banning political activities for students and bringing back security forces. “The ministry could have rationed political participation with clear rules that ban any calls for protests or a particular party during the lectures, which could be a very good solution,” she said.
Verdicts and trials
The Egyptian Observatory of Rights and Freedoms issued a report Sept. 15 stating that since Sisi came to power, about 151 trials have begun, which resulted in 213 death sentences, 1,622 imprisonments, and about 7 million EGP ($978,677) paid in fines and 1,116 acquittals.
The observatory’s Facebook page posted an infographic that includes the exact numbers of issued verdicts in the past 100 days. It can be found below
Lawyer Ali Atef, the ANHRI legal unit director, told The Cairo Post Sept. 12 that these verdicts are supposed to have no direct connection to the president, however, 213 death sentences in such a short period of time is unprecedented. “This is definitely a first,” he said. “It’s normal to hear about death sentences, but the number is not normal at all.”
Atef, however, conceded the past period had been difficult for the whole state and that any president would have rights violations under their tenure, not just Sisi in particular.
“I think the state has ended 90 percent of terrorism by now, and in the coming period it should be more concerned about freedoms and rights. The first step should be amending or canceling the Protest Law,” Atef said. “As the [Hosni] Mubarak trial is still ongoing, and with only seven defendants, 500 people should not be sentenced to death in just three months”
With a number of foreign visits, Sisi made noticeable progress in foreign relations, especially with Moscow. Sisi’s trips to Russia as both interim defense minister in February and president in August were seen as a sign of playing off tense American relations following the rule of Morsi, whose overthrow the U.S. had criticized.
“International tensions have been contained, especially with Arab countries. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi rebalanced Egypt’s relations, especially with his visits to Russia, Saudi Arabia and the African Union,” said former Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Orabi in comments to Al-Hayah Al-Youm television show Sept. 17.
He added that concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Sisi “succeeded in handling it in a very diplomatic way.”
“We can say that he laid a negotiating base by saying that the Ethiopian right of development equals the Egyptian one,” he said.
Sisi’s first visit to the U.S. as president was Sept. 21 for the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.
Sisi’s legacy so far
After two revolutions and a long period of political unrest, Sisi’s focus on stability and security have won over most of the public, despite the criticisms of Egypt’s record on human rights and freedom of expression on his watch.
Many polls conducted by NGOs have shown that despite all of the political obstacles and opposition that face Sisi, he still has a popular base that supports him.
The Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research (Baseera) issued a report about Sisi’s performance on Aug. 31, 80 days after Sisi took office. It showed that about 82 percent of Egyptians approve of Sisi‘s presidential performance.
Another report issued by the same NGO Sept. 22 on Sisi’s 100th day in power carried the same approval rating at 82 percent.
An Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies poll issued Sept. 20, however, showed only 61 percent of Egyptians are satisfied with Sisi’s performance.