While progressives around the world celebrated the defeat of Trump, some in Egypt lost their freedom. Osama Diab, a comrade of activists who have been arrested in the country’s latest crackdown, calls for solidarity.
The defeat for Donald Trump was meant to spell good news for many marginalised communities battling for their rights. Unfortunately, as recent events in Egypt have shown, this has not been the case for those in a key state of the US sphere of influence.
For three of my former colleagues and best friends, who spent most of their careers at the forefront of the fight for equality in all its different dimensions, the defeat of Trump has, in an unexpected turn of events, become a threat to their lives.
On 15 November Mohammed Bashir, the administrative director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the largest and last human rights organizations operating on the ground in Egypt (and my former workplace where I engaged in economic rights research and advocacy) was arrested in the middle of the night from his house by a large and intimidating force from the notorious State Security Police. A couple of days later, Karim Ennarah, my closest friend for over 20 years, was picked up while lunching in his swimming shorts during his holiday at the Red Sea resort of Dahab, by the same security force.
While all of us were still trying to comprehend the arrest of Ennarah and Bashir, Gasser Abdelrazek, the managing director of the organization, was taken from his wife and children the following day. He had been tirelessly following the case of his two arrested colleagues, trying to ensure their safety and release. The three all face bogus terrorism and public security charges and have been held in pre-trial detention for more than 15 days. In accordance with Egyptian law this could be renewed for up to two years without trial or conviction. It has become regular practice that once the two years are up, Egyptian authorities ‘recycle’ the detainees in a new case in order to start the two-year count again. Technically, this could go-on indefinitely.
The treatment of my friends has been aggressive and clearly retaliatory. Even their closest family members and lawyers have very limited or no access to them. Reportedly Abdelrazek is being held in solitary confinement and is facing inhumane conditions. The other two have not been heard of or seen by anyone, including by their lawyers, since the detention decision was issued the day after their respective arrests.
EIPR has been operating legally in Egypt since 2002, defending the rights of prisoners, religious and sexual minorities, local communities’ right to land, and for the poorest segments of the population to have access to fundamental rights including a decent standard of living. EIPR has operated under Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and now the military regime of Abdelfattah Al-Sisi – and weathered all the dramatic and momentous transitions between these administrations.
With such a long and eventful history, the question that poses itself is why now? Why now after surviving for years under some of the most vicious dictatorships, including for years under the current, arguably most brutal, one? There can only be speculation at this point but the timing of the arrests, only a couple of weeks after the US presidential elections, is too significant to ignore.
Trump provided inspiration and comfort for authoritarians around the world. The US, under Trump, has been very easy on Egypt’s atrocious human rights record. The fear is that the detained EIPR staffers are arrested to be used as pawns by Egypt’s authorities with the new Biden administration, to avoid discussion of deeper and more structural issues, and to navigate around demands for releasing the scores of other political prisoners already rotting in prison. The Egyptian authorities’ worst nightmare would be for the progressive movement to grow confident after Trump’s defeat and consequent possible eclipse of far-right and authoritarian groups around the world, especially in Egypt where Biden promised in July that there will be no more blank cheques for Egypt’s regime.
In short, and ironically, the intensified activity of state security police and prosecution is a manifestation of state insecurity in reaction to the increasing global defiance against Trumpism; the fear now is that my friends and former colleagues, effectively taken hostage in this global war of politics, will simply be collateral damage in this process.
It is worth stressing that the depiction of Sisi as a singular ‘oriental despot’ is inaccurate to say the least. I have argued in my academic research that what sometimes seem like individual and isolated acts of political hysteria, are often historical, contextual, planned, rational, coordinated, and collective efforts. The recent arrests are certainly no exception. The hope is that a contextual shift in global politics, and the incredible acts of global solidarity with EIPR, will bring some good news to the detainees and their families after it had brought such horrific pain.
Condemnations of their arrests and inhumane treatment have come from across the globe, including in the UK from Jeremy Corbyn, Lisa Nandy and the Government. Internationally, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Progressive International, Argentine Foreign Ministry, The mothers and grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo and many others have all spoken out against these arrests.
Please help in the efforts to secure their freedom by visiting FreeKarim.