Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is furious.
The boomerang fury over the turnover of the Tiran and Sanafir islands has returned with double power. A day ahead of a protest planned for Monday, the president has launched a wave of arrests, another symptom of the weakness of a dysfunctional regime. Friday night was a repeat of the raids carried out by police during the day.
It ended with a dramatic discovery: Khaled Abdel Rahman, an activist from Alexandria, was found deserted along a road on the outskirts of Cairo, his body marked with signs of torture. He’s still alive, his sister Reem reported to Middle East Eye, but he’s hospitalized in intensive care.
“His body is full of signs of torture and beatings, electric shocks to the genitals,” she wrote on Facebook, adding that Rahman had been arrested the day before by the police during a search of their home. A passerby found him in the ditch, an image that calls to mind the discovery of the Italian scholar Giulio Regeni in February.
From Thursday to Saturday, several Egyptian provinces were a theater of raids and mass arrests: in the cafes, in private homes, in the street. In Giza, the labor lawyer Haytham Mohamadeen, one of the leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists, was taken away, and on Saturday prosecutors lengthened his detention to 15 days for being “a member of an illegal organization,” without specifying which. They did, however, release the cartoonist Makhlouf.
The numbers released by the Interior Ministry are staggering: In a week, 5,000 homes were searched in central Cairo alone, with thousands of computers and phones examined. Ahram Online reports that at least 100 people were arrested on Thursday evening.
The fear is that this is only a prelude to Monday, given the precedents. On April 15, 4,000 people took to the streets for the first anti-government demonstration since el-Sisi’s election in the summer of 2014. The final tallies include 387 arrests: 268 were released, 98 are on bail awaiting trial and 21 are still in prison, according to the Association for Free Thought and Expression. The activist Sanaa Seif (the sister of the more famous Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Mona Seif), who was among those arrested in 2014, has again been summoned by the Cairo prosecutor. The charge is inciting the protests by denouncing the arrest of activist Yasser al-Qott, also accused of incitement.
Not even the Western press was exempt from Saturday’s blitz, with the Interior Ministry denouncing Reuters bureau chief Michael Georgy for “publishing false news aimed at disturbing the peace and damaging Egypt’s reputation.” This is the only institutional response to revelations the news agency published regarding the last hours of Regeni’s life, citing anonymous sources who say he was arrested by Egyptian authorities.
The close ties between political leaders and the judiciary are clear, strengthened by the laws of the president coup. The regulations prohibiting protests, the criminalization of civil society and the increased power of the police and secret services are reflected in the decisions of the many judges who endorse the government’s policies. El-Sisi’s words on the National Day of the Judiciary are worthless: “I never interfere with the judicial system,” he said Saturday at the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the final sentence of the fourth trial of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and first democratically elected president of Egypt, was postponed to May 7. In what has been described by the prosecutor as “the greatest act of espionage and treason in the nation’s history,” he accused Morsi of having delivered to Qatar — via al-Jazeera — secret documents containing information about the armed forces.
Morsi has already received three different penalties: a death sentence for participating in a 2011 prisoner escape; life imprisonment for collaborating with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard; and 20 years for the killing of protesters in front of the presidential palace in 2012.