As Trump was meeting with his “favorite dictator” in New York (as he called Abdel Fattah al-Sisi just a few weeks ago), Egypt’s crackdown triggered by the protests that erupted last Friday reached an unprecedented level of hysteria. The two presidents met on Monday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
As usual, Trump hailed his Egyptian counterpart and, downplaying the extent of the ongoing protests in Egypt, said: “I’m not concerned with it. Egypt has a great leader. He’s highly respected.” In Trump’s opinion, “when he took over, [Egypt] was in turmoil. But it’s not in turmoil any more.”
Al-Sisi was sitting next to him, smiling. The general-president had a contemptful expression as he was asked about the protests, giving a very vague answer and blaming “political Islam” for destabilizing the entire region and Egypt.
According to estimates published by the lawyers involved in the legal defense, at least 1,500 people have been detained following the protests on Friday. The lawyers were able to find out the names of only around 800 of them. The arrested (for which detention has been extended to 15 days) were all detained as part of a mega-investigation which accuses them of “membership of a terrorist organization and use of social media to spread false information.”
Yesterday, the leadership of the Istiqlal Islamist party (outlawed since 2014) was completely decimated by the arrests. According to a pro-regime parliamentary source quoted by MadaMasr, the security apparatus intends to expand the crackdown to target the opposition parties in particular.
These days, two trade union leaders from Suez, leaders of left-wing parties, at least two lawyers and three journalists have also ended up behind bars. In Suez yesterday, a group of workers gathered to stage a pro-regime rally rebelled and turned the astroturfed event into an anti-Sisi protest.
The most serious situation seems to be the one developing in Cairo, especially in the downtown neighborhoods of the capital. An eyewitness (who asked to remain anonymous) described to il manifesto a city which has been completely militarized: “We have never seen such an oppressive situation. They raided the homes of all our acquaintances. Soon, we’ll be up next. They check computers and cell phones, and often carry people off to the barracks to interrogate them all night. I know a student who was taken one night, blindfolded and taken to an office together with other young people. There were beaten all night and then released.”
According to our source, there is no more appropriate word than “madness” to explain the level of security in the city. “There are checks everywhere. Plainclothes agents, baltagiya [criminal gangs on the payroll of the Interior Ministry], vans everywhere.”
A disturbing piece of news is that there are many women officers among the security forces deployed: “They are targeting the girls, they are arresting very many. This has never happened to such an extent before.” There is a high risk that one will stopped and detained for no reason at all. “Many of those who are taken are not political. Some of us don’t leave our homes for days because of the fear.”
The undeclared curfew begins at around three in the afternoon, when the security checks are intensified and even the act of walking down the street becomes a risk. The workers try to go home as soon as possible, to avoid being forced to cross the center of the city during the evening. “In Talaat Harb, a central square not far from Tahrir, the situation is absurd: it’s impossible to walk at all because of so many trucks and police,” the eyewitness went on.
In short, the regime’s strategy seems to be twofold: on the one hand, to strike against the activists in order to prevent any alliance forming between the organized opposition and the spontaneous movement which emerged in recent days, and on the other, to spread as much terror as possible among the population. The next street protests are scheduled for Friday (when al-Sisi should already be back at home), but in the current climate, it’s difficult to predict what will happen.