Nov 19th 2018

Egypt and Amal Fathy: one woman’s story highlights national wave of repression and sexual violence

by Scott Lucas and Giovanni Piazzese

 

Scott Lucas is Professor of International Politics, University of Birmingham

Giovann Piazzese is Doctoral Researcher, University of Birmingham

 

They came in the middle of the night. At about 2.30am on May 11, Amal Fathy, her husband Mohamed Lotfy, and their three-year-old child were awakened by Egyptian security personnel. For hours, a special forces detachment of seven armed men in uniform and two plainclothes officers raided their home.

Amal, a former actress and fashion model, had posted a Facebook Live commentary expressing her anger about being sexual harassed two days earlier. In the 12-minute video, Amal lamented how a taxi driver groped her and a bank guard verbally harassed her while grabbing his crotch.

Amal, her husband and her child were taken to a local police station in Cairo’s Maadi district. A few hours later, Mohamed and their child were released, but Amal still languishes in prison. Mohamed wrote in August:

Everyone knows sexual violence exists in Egypt and across the world. But in my country, abuse has become so common that it goes unreported.

If someone refuses to accept such abuse, they become the odd one out. That’s what happened to Amal. She decided to take a stand and share her story – and now she’s being punished for it.

The charges

Amal was accused of broadcasting false news affecting national security and the possession of indecent materials. But this was not enough for the authorities. Two days after her arrest, Amal was charged in State Security prosecution case #621 with belonging to a terrorist group.

On September 29, Amal was handed a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 Egyptian Pounds (US$560) over the first set of charges. She paid bail of 20,000 EGP (US$1120) to suspend the sentence pending appeal, but remains in custody awaiting trial over the second set of charges.

During the rule of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a former army general who took power in a coup in 2013 and was elected president in 2014 and again in 2018, use of the internet has been restricted, monitored, and often punished. The Web, which contributed to the spread of the 2011 protests in Egypt, has been transformed into a double-edged sword, allowing Egyptian police and security agencies to identify opponents and muzzle them.

Sisi’s obsession with controlling civil society organisations and common citizens was enshrined in a repressive law, approved by parliament on June 5, which legalises censorship of the internet, enables authorities to block websites, and imposes heavy fines and detention on those who break it.

This “cybercrime” law gives the investigating authority, such as the police, the power to block a website whenever content is deemed to be a threat to national security or the economy. The blocking order has to be executed by internet service providers as soon as they receive it, enabling security officials to ban a website before any judicial authority can issue a decision.

Surveillance state

The new law establishes the comprehensive surveillance of communications, requiring communications companies to store users’ data for 180 days and obliging telecoms providers to hand over detailed information about users’ communications, including voice calls, text messages, website visits, and the use of apps on laptops and smartphones. Service providers are also required to provide national security agencies and police officers with the technical facilities and assistance needed to exercise their power.

Criticised by rights groups as being excessively vague, the law can impose a range of 29 penalties on offenders, ranging up to five years in prison and fines of EGP20m (US$1.12m). And there is more: a regulation approved by parliament on June 10 imposes sanctions on any individuals with a personal website, blog, or online account with more than 5,000 followers. It forbids the publication or dissemination of false news, incitement to violence or hatred, discrimination, intolerance, defamation of individuals, and insult to religious beliefs.

According to a report issued by the Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, the law is part of a framework “whose goal has not only been to suppress most fundamental freedoms, but also to guarantee total impunity to the various security forces and intelligence agencies involved in the implementation of these laws”.

Repress to annihilate

Amal Fathy has now spent six months at the al-Qanater women’s prison. She frequently suffers from panic attacks and has complications in her left leg after prison doctors took more than two weeks to give her the correct medication.

Many suspect Amal’s arrest is a message to her husband, Mohamed Lotfy, the executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF). ECRF provides legal assistance to Egyptians, and its reports on human rights abuses have been a thorn in the regime’s side. Since 2015, ECRF staff have regularly been harassed by Egyptian security agencies. Some, such as Mina Thabet and Ahmed Abdallah, spent months in prison, while others, including Lotfy, have been included on a travel ban list.

ECRF also provides assistance to the family of the slain Italian researcher Giulio Regeni. Fathy’s detention came as the Egyptian authorities were negotiating with Italian prosecutors seeking images of Cairo’s underground transport system where Regeni may have been seen for the last time. Such abuses are becoming commonplace in Egypt.

More than 7,500 civilians have faced a military court since October 2014. Last May, several activists, bloggers and journalists were arrested for expressing their opinion, among them the video blogger Shady Abu Zeid, the liberal activist Shady Ghazaly, labour rights lawyer Haitham Mohamedeen (freed at the end of October), and the award-winning journalist and blogger Wael Abbas. A police raid on November 1 led to the arrest of 19 human rights defenders, among them Hoda Abdelmoneim, a former member of the National Commission for Human Rights.

These detentions violate the Egyptian constitution – Article 57 guarantees citizens the right to privacy – and minimum international procedural standards. However, they are only the tip of the iceberg. According to some estimates, at least 60,000 political prisoners are languishing in overcrowded cells. The Egyptian state, it seems, wishes to to annihilate any kind of opposition.

In such an environment, a woman who dares to express her frustration over being harassed twice in the same day is easily transformed into a criminal subject.

 

Scott Lucas, Professor of International Politics, University of Birmingham and Giovanni Piazzese, Doctoral Researcher, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Feb 11th 2019
The first step to defending Europe from its enemies, both internal and external, is to recognize the magnitude of the threat they present. The second is to awaken the sleeping pro-European majority and mobilize it to defend the values on which the EU was founded. Otherwise, the dream of a united Europe could become the nightmare of the twenty-first century.
Feb 7th 2019
Watching a sophisticated democratic society knowingly walk into a predictable and avoidable national disaster is a rare and alarming experience. Most British politicians are well aware that leaving the European Union with no agreement on the post-Brexit relationship will cause enormous damage to their country. They are not sleepwalking into the abyss; their eyes are wide open. A minority of deluded ideologues doesn’t mind the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal. A few chauvinist dreamers on the right, egged on by sections of the press, believe that the bulldog spirit of Dunkirk will overcome early setbacks and Great Britain will soon rule the waves again as a great quasi-imperial power, albeit without an empire. Neo-Trotskyists on the left, including Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, seem to think that catastrophe will spur the British people to demand true socialism at last.
Feb 4th 2019
We’re off to the races - the 2020 presidential races, that is. Since the beginning of the year, at regular intervals, new candidates have been coming forward to announce their intention to compete for the presidency. Some are interesting and/or exciting, while others frankly leave me scratching my head and asking “What are they doing? How on earth do they think they’re going to be elected?”      
Jan 29th 2019
Extract: "As it happens, on that Friday night when Trump buckled, I was at a restaurant where Pelosi and her husband, Paul, were dining with another couple. When the House Speaker left her table, customers and staff alike applauded her. A waitress standing beside me was nearly in tears. She choked out, “We need someone who will fight for us.” "
Jan 28th 2019
Recognizing that opinion in Parliament is moving strongly against leaving the EU on the terms proposed by May, with a growing number of members even in favor of a second referendum to test whether we should leave at all, some right-wingers have flirted with the idea of trying to close down the House of Commons for a time. They want the government to be able to get its own way without any democratic opposition. It is a sign of their desperation to get Britain out of the EU whatever the constitutional or economic cost. Is May prepared to get to grips with this? If she runs away from the task, despite growing Parliamentary unease about the path we are on, Britain is in big trouble.
Jan 25th 2019
At the end of last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had completed final testing of an “invincible” new hypersonic nuclear-capable missile, the “Avangard,” calling it “the best New Year gift” for his country. With Putin seeming to up the ante on his increasingly frequent doomsday rhetoric, should the world be bracing itself for a nuclear conflict?................In recent months, popular support for Putin in Russia has declined sharply, with his approval rating falling from over 76% to 66% in the second half of last year. At the same time, a kind of neo-medieval thinking, focused on the restoration of autocratic monarchy and the supremacy of the Orthodox Church, has been gaining prominence in Russia. Putin’s fire-and-brimstone rhetoric may actually reflect the mindset of these fundamentalists, who view nukes as a “practical solution” to the world’s problems.
Jan 24th 2019
Over the past three decades I wrote more than two hundred articles about Israel, envisioning it to be a democratic state, independent and free, a champion of human rights, a force of unity for world Jewry, united in its citizenry, admired by its friends, envied by its detractors, and above all at peace with the Arab states and especially with the Palestinians. My vision about Israel was founded on my deep sense of the Jews’ turbulent and tragic history and their yearning for a home of their own in which to live in peace and security. As the years went by, I became increasingly disillusioned with Israel’s endemic political disunity, its inability to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians, the growing public complacency, the loss of the country’s unity of purpose, and the abandonment of its moral responsibility.
Jan 22nd 2019
China’s strategy for economic growth has been a work in progress since Deng Xiaoping launched the country’s “reform and opening up” in 1978. While the last 40 years of reform have been far from error-free, the government has displayed a willingness to adapt, as well as a capacity for navigating complex transitions, supported by a healthy internal policy debate. But how is China’s development model likely to evolve in the future, as external conditions pose new challenges to economic growth? A defining feature of China’s four decades of reform has been the state’s evolving role in the economy, about which there is still significant domestic disagreement. Some argue that the state – and, by extension, the Communist Party of China (CPC) – must retain a prominent role, in order to uphold the social stability needed to sustain economic development. Others claim that spurring the innovation needed to reach high-income status requires the state to be less like a market participant and more like a referee, regulator, and arbiter of economic and social priorities.
Jan 16th 2019
Consumer studies academics have been picking up on changing habits for a number of years. This includes an increased ambivalence towards consumption itself: people are buying less often and less overall. This is particularly true in the clothing industry, where research shows that millenials are especially unforthcoming – even after you factor in the shift to online retail. A lack of bricks and mortar did not, for instance, prevent online fashion retailer Asos from shocking the City with a profit warning shortly before Christmas. The American car industry is another harbinger of generational change: sales are stalling because younger people seem less interested in ownership. The average age of a new car buyer in the US was 50 in 2015. Or to give one more example, witness Apple’s recent trading problems. People are not only opting for cheaper smartphones, but they are keeping them for longer. If the world’s first company to pass the trillion dollar value mark is showing signs of struggling, we ought to take note.
Jan 15th 2019
[Eurozone] trades mainly within itself, re-invests its own savings, and doesn’t rely on large transfers into or out of other regions. So if another financial or commercial shock sends the rest of the world running backwards, the unloved single currency area may defy gravity as stubbornly as it resists reform.
Jan 11th 2019
Nine years ago, Britain generated nearly 75% of its electricity using natural gas and coal. In 2018, this dropped to under 45% – a remarkable transition away from fossil fuels in under a decade.:
Jan 10th 2019
What would have to happen for this to be a tranquil year economically, financially, and politically? Answer: a short list of threats to stability would have to be averted.
Jan 9th 2019
In the past, the US, despite all its own flaws and criminal conflicts, still stood as a force for good. An ideal of American openness and democracy was still worthy of admiration. At the same time, again as in the case of Western Europe, dependence on US military protection has had a less positive affect. It made Japan into a kind of vassal state; whatever the Americans wanted, Japan ends up having to do. This can have an infantilizing effect on politics. In the age of Trump, America is no longer so dependable. This might at least help to concentrate Japanese minds on how to get on in the world without the Americans. But the US has also ceased to be a model of freedom and openness. On the contrary, it has become an example of narrow nationalism, xenophobia, and isolationism. Japanese nationalists need no encouragement to follow this model. If they do so, Trump certainly will not stand in their way. They will echo the worst aspects of contemporary America – and throw away the best of what the US once had to offer.
Jan 8th 2019
Swedish academic Hans Rosling has identified a worrying trend: not only do many people across advanced economies have no idea that the world is becoming a much better place, but they actually even think the opposite. This is no wonder, when the news focuses on reporting catastrophes, terrorist attacks, wars and famines. Who wants to hear about the fact that every day some 200,000 people around the world are lifted above the US$2-a-day poverty line? Or that more than 300,000 people a day get access to electricity and clean water for the first time every day? These stories of people in low-income countries simply doesn’t make for exciting news coverage. But, as Rosling pointed out in his book Factfulness, it’s important to put all the bad news in perspective.
Jan 3rd 2019
If hardline Brexiteers aren’t willing to do what it takes to maintain a frictionless border with the EU in Ireland, they need to acknowledge the likely consequences. Northern Ireland will then want to choose, in a referendum, whether to remain in the UK or to unify with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member.........Such a step would be allowed under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended the civil war and included a promise from the UK, Ireland, and the EU to keep regulations aligned across Ireland. Indeed, that deal leaves open the possibility of a reunified Ireland, if majorities in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland decide, by referendum, that that is what they want. In 2016, Northern Ireland voted by a clear margin of 56%-44% to remain in the EU. Though the minority Conservative government is being propped up by the ten MPs representing Northern Ireland’s pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist Party, an even larger majority of Northern Irish voters would probably choose the EU today..........Last June, when asked about business leaders’ fears over Brexit, Johnson infamously declared, “Fuck business.” If he were honest, he would apply the same crude dismissiveness to Northern Ireland and Scotland. At least then it would be clear where the Brexiteers actually stand.
Jan 3rd 2019

Many years ago, I came across an pre-Islamic Arabic poem describing a camel running across the desert. Suddenly, the camel freezes in mid-stride.

Dec 28th 2018
Extract: "..........the eruption of the Yellow Vest protests [in France] was less about the fuel tax than what its introduction represented: the government’s indifference to the plight of the middle class outside France’s largest urban centers. With job and income polarization having increased across all developed economies in recent decades, the unrest in France should serve as a wake-up call to others............To be sure, France, like a number of other European countries, has its share of impediments to growth and employment, such as those rooted in the structure and regulation of labor markets. But any effort to address these issues must be coupled with measures that mitigate and eventually reverse the job and income polarization that has been fueling popular discontent and political instability."
Dec 27th 2018
A fog of political uncertainty hangs over Britain after Christmas. Only four things seem clear. First, the Conservative Party will have growing difficulty accommodating its fanatical English nationalist wing. Second, to save the UK from disaster, Parliament will have to get a grip on the process. Third, life outside the EU will, in any case, leave Britain poorer and less influential in the world. And, lastly, whatever the outcome, Brexit will be a divisive issue for years to come. The Brexiteers lied. The costs of leaving the EU were always destined to outweigh the benefits. Alas, the responsible, imaginative, and inclusive political leadership needed to minimize the damage is nowhere in sight.
Dec 19th 2018
Over the centuries, Jews have been blamed for all sorts of ills in Christian and Muslim societies, from the Great Plague of the fourteenth century to the financial crashes of modern times. In 1903, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, produced by Imperial Russia’s secret police, “exposed” a diabolical Jewish plot to achieve world domination by promoting liberalism – and became a pretext for anti-Semitism in Europe. These narratives endure to this day, only now they are being projected onto a single Jew: George Soros............A disciple of the philosopher Karl Popper, Soros has promoted open societies as the ultimate guarantee of freedom from tyranny and religious or ideological indoctrination.....
Dec 17th 2018
Theresa May has survived a vote of no confidence in her leadership but to quote the prime minister: “Nothing has changed.” The Conservative Party remains just as divided as it was before. While divisions over Europe have been very prominent recently, they have been a thorn in the side of the party leadership for many years now. That said, looking at the situation today it’s hard to imagine how these rival ideologies have managed to coexist within the same party for so long.