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

Dec 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Conspiracy theories about sinister Jewish power have a long history. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Russian forgery published in 1903, popularized the notion that Jewish bankers and financiers were secretly pulling the strings to dominate the world. Henry Ford was one of the more prominent people who believed this nonsense."
Dec 13th 2019
EXTRACT: "In previous British elections, to say that trust was the main issue would have meant simply that trust is the trump card – whichever leader or party could secure most trust would win. Now, the emerging question about trust is whether it even matters anymore."
Dec 5th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe must fend for itself for the first time since the end of World War II. Yet after so many years of strategic dependence the US, Europe is unprepared – not just materially but psychologically – for today’s harsh geopolitical realities. Nowhere is this truer than in Germany."
Nov 23rd 2019
Extdact: "The kind of gratitude expressed by Vindman and my grandfather is not something that would naturally occur to a person who can take his or her nationality for granted, or whose nationality is beyond questioning by others. Some who have never felt the sharp end of discrimination might even find it mildly offensive. Why should anyone be grateful for belonging to a particular nation? Pride, perhaps, but gratitude? In fact, patriotism based on gratitude might be the strongest form there is."
Nov 20th 2019
Extract: "Moody’s, one of the big three credit rating agencies, is not upbeat about the prospects for the world’s debt in 2020 – to put it mildly. If we were to try to capture the agency’s view of where we are heading on a palette of colours, we would be pointing at black – pitch black."
Nov 17th 2019
Extract: "Digital money is already a key battleground in finance, with technology firms, payment processing companies, and banks all vying to become the gateway into the burgeoning platform-based economy. The prizes that await the winners could be huge. In China, Alipay and WeChat Pay already control more than 90% of all mobile payments. And in the last three years, the four largest listed payment firms – Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and PayPal – have increased in value by more than the FAANGs (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google)."
Nov 14th 2019
Extract: "Trump, who understands almost nothing about governing, made a major mistake in attacking career public officials from the outset of his presidency. He underestimated – or just couldn’t fathom – the honor of people who could earn more in the private sector but believe in public service. And he made matters worse for himself as well as for the government by creating a shadow group – headed by the strangely out-of-control Rudy Giuliani, once a much-admired mayor of New York City, and now a freelance troublemaker serving as Trump’s personal attorney – to impose the president’s Ukraine policy over that of “the bureaucrats.” "
Nov 4th 2019
Extract: "Trump displays repeated and persistent behaviours consistent with narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These behaviours include craving for adulation, lack of empathy, aggression and vindictiveness towards opponents, addiction to lying, and blatant disregard for rules and conventions, among others." The concern is that leaders with these two disorders may be incapable of putting the interests of the country ahead of their own personal interests. Their compulsive lying may make rational action impossible and their impulsiveness may make them incapable of the forethought and planning necessary to lead the country. They lack empathy and are often motivated by rage and revenge, and could make quick decisions that could have profoundly dangerous consequences for democracy.
Oct 31st 2019
EXTRACT: "......let’s see what happens when we have less money for all the things we want to do as a country and as individuals. Promises and predictions regarding Brexit will soon be tested against reality. When they are, I wouldn’t want to be one of Johnson’s Brexiteers."
Oct 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "Were Israel to be attacked with the same precision and sophistication as the strike on Saudi Arabia, the Middle East would be plunged into war on a scale beyond anything it has experienced so far. Sadly (but happily for Russian President Vladimir Putin), that is the reality of a world in which the US has abandoned any pretense of global leadership."
Oct 20th 2019
EXTRACT: "Europe also stands to lose from Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. If, in the ongoing chaos, the thousands of ISIS prisoners held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces escape – as some already have – America’s estranged European allies will suffer. Yet Trump is unconcerned. “Well, they are going to be escaping to Europe, that’s where they want to go,” he remarked casually at a press conference. “They want to go back to their homes." "
Oct 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Assuming the House ultimately votes to impeach Trump, the fact remains that there are far fewer votes in the Senate than will be needed to convict him and remove him from office. But the willingness of Congress – including the Senate – to continue tolerating his dangerous conduct in office, including threats to US national security, is now truly in question."
Oct 7th 2019
EXTRACT: "The problem didn't start with the election of Donald Trump. Nor did it begin with the Democrats launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. This is a developing crisis that has been growing like a cancer within our polity for at least the past 25 years. Its main symptoms are a lack of civility in our political discourse, a "take no prisoners" mindset, and a denial of the very legitimacy of "the other side." Trump didn't create this crisis; he was the result of it.   When Newt Gingrich took the helm of Congress in 1995, unlike previous Republican leaders, he embarked on a campaign not only to obstruct the efforts of then President Clinton, but to destroy him. Congress launched a series of investigations accusing Clinton of everything from corruption to obstruction of justice – with hints of even more nefarious plots to assassinate those who might pose a problem to his presidency.  "
Oct 4th 2019
EXTRACT: "As the story spreads, it grows darker. Meanwhile, Trump is trying to learn the identity of the whistleblower (who is protected by law), which could expose that person to great danger. And he is accusing some people – including Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee – of treason. My sense is that Trump fears the tough, focused Schiff. Trump has ominously noted that traitors used to be shot or hanged. And he hasn’t helped himself with members of either party by declaring, in one of his hundreds of febrile tweets, that forcing him from office could lead to a “civil war.” Trump has taken the United States somewhere it’s never been before. His presidency may not survive it."
Sep 24th 2019
EXTRACT: "But regardless of whether the Ukraine scandal remains front-page news, it will haunt the US intelligence community, which has been Trump’s bête noire since the day he took office. Trump has relentlessly attacked US intelligence agencies, cozied up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and divulged secrets to foreign officials, potentially burning high-value sources. This behavior had already raised serious concerns about whether Trump can be trusted to receive sensitive intelligence at all. Now, intelligence leaders must ask themselves how far they are willing to go in toeing the White House line."
Sep 21st 2019
EXTRACT: "As Lobaczewski pointed out, pathological leaders tend to attract other people with psychological disorders. At the same time, empathetic and fair-minded people gradually fall away. They are either ostracised or step aside voluntarily, appalled by the growing pathology around them.......As a result, over time pathocracies become more entrenched and extreme. You can see this process in the Nazi takeover of the German government in the 1930s, when Germany moved from democracy to pathocracy in less than two years.......In the US, there has clearly been a movement towards pathocracy under Trump. As Lobaczewski’s theory predicts, the old guard of more moderate White House officials – the “adults in the room” – has fallen away. The president is now surrounded by individuals who share his authoritarian tendencies and lack of empathy and morality. Fortunately, to some extent, the democratic institutions of the US have managed to provide some push back."
Sep 16th 2019
EXTRACT: "If the Supreme Court does agree with the Divisional Court that the question is political rather than legal, it will take the UK constitution into quite peculiar territory. Prime ministers will be the new kings and queens. They will be free to suspend parliament at will, and for as long as they wish, without any judicial interference. Parliament will meet not out of constitutional necessity but in the service of the government’s interests – namely, to pass its legislation and to maintain appearances, rather than to hold it to account."
Sep 12th 2019
Extract: "The Republican Party has lashed its fate to an increasingly unhinged leader. Though three other presidential hopefuls for 2020 now stand in Trump’s way, none can defeat him. But they can damage his reelection effort, which is why the Republican Party has been scrapping some primaries and caucuses. How well Trump does in November next year may well depend on how his fragile ego withstands the coming months."
Sep 2nd 2019
EXTRACTS: "Most people think of revolutions as sudden earthquakes or volcanic eruptions that come without warning and sweep away an entire political system. But historians, political scientists, and even the odd politician know that the reality is very different: revolutions happen when systems hollow themselves out, or simply rot from within. Revolutionaries can then brush aside established norms of behavior, or even of truth, as trivialities that should not impede the popular will............ Only time will tell whether we are currently witnessing the hollowing out of British democracy. But Prime Minister Boris Johnson may well have crossed some invisible Rubicon by.......... Whatever happens now, British parliamentary democracy may never be the same again. It will certainly never again be the model that so many people around the world once admired."
Aug 29th 2019
EXTRACT: "Events such as prorogations and dissolutions happen when countries face difficult times. Therefore, because of the disastrous effects of Brexit: sterling in freefall; a recession looming on the horizon and Britain’s international standing at its lowest ebb since Suez, it is no surprise that the country is in this position now. The worrying thing is that using the monarchical power of prorogation does not solve problems – it has a history of turning them into frightening and often violent crises. There is a worrying relationship between the use of such powers and a complete breakdown in government."