When the Egyptian regime wants it, it’s very fast. Ten minutes were enough for a Cairo court to close the trials against 152 people under investigation for having violated the anti-terrorism law.
Egypt held a mass trial against those who protested the transfer of the Tiran and Sanafir Islands to Saudi Arabia. Out of the 1,277 people arrested between April 15 and 25, often preventively, 152 were sentenced to prison on Sunday: 51 to two years, 101 to five. Everybody must pay a fine of about €10,000.
Human rights organizations quickly expressed doubts. The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), a state owned agency, said the verdicts came out too fast for a just trial. “A single judge was assigned to the cases related to the protests in Dokki and Agouza,” explains Ragla Omran of NCHR. “He didn’t even have the time to check the evidences and the defenses. Fifty attorneys spoke in front of the court for six hours and submitted more than 60 documents, but the judge decided in just 10 minutes. I don’t think he was able to absorb all the information. It’s humanly impossible.” In a few words, adds Omran, the impression was that the “decision had already been taken.”
The penalty for other 400 protesters remains to be decided, while the young activist Sana Seif (Alaa Abdel-Fattah and Mona Seif’s sister) was sentenced to six months for insults against the magistrature. Also on Sunday, the detention order for the journalists Badr and Al-Saqqa, arrested on May 1 during a police raid on the press union and accused by the Minister of External Affairs of wanting to assassinate the president, has been extended by 15 days.
The national press union was set to discuss a bill the government approved Monday that would create two new authorities (the members of which would be chosen jointly by the president, the parliament and the union) and commute sentences related to journalistic work (among them, in theory, those against writer Ahmed Naji and union member Mohammed Ali Hassan).
Will the law end the press crisis in Egypt? We shall see. What’s sure is that that law has not been discussed with the union. At this point, el-Sisi’s regime repressive madness has gone beyond any barrier of common sense or fear of international reprisals: Any criticism is punished with surreal severity.
But outside of Egypt, no one is paying attention. On Friday, Cairo acquired rockets for submarines from the United States for €143 million. It’s a Parisian-style strategy a la Hollande, who last month signed 10 memoranda of agreement and 30 commercial agreements with Egypt. There was no pause for consideration of Eric Lang, a French citizen who died from the beating he received in an Egyptian police station in 2013.
And if it took 10 minutes for a verdict in 152 cases related to a domestic protest, the courts needed three years to reach a conclusion in the prosecution of Lang’s killers. On Sunday, six people were sentenced to seven years in jail for the French teacher’s death. These are the detainees with whom he was sharing the cell and who, supposedly, had beaten him over an argument, according to the district attorney, about the light being turned on.
The case returned to the pages of the newspapers after the murder of Giulio Regeni. For three years the Egyptian magistrate did nothing, and then in a few weeks found guilty the same people accused in 2013 and released. No explanation, of course, about the signs of torture on Lang’s body.
El-Sisi does it all alone: He’s the victim, the judge and the executioner, the showrunner of a system of parallel, but interconnected, powers that come into being in the hands of the former general. In such a context of pervasive control, institutionalized paranoia and repression, the climate is also heated by a series of structure fires. The voice of the people’s “conspiracy theories” is the government’s daily newspaper al-Ahram: Some say the fires at hotels, stores and homes are acts of arson by the government to (literally) bury the Tiran and Sanafir issue under the ashes.
The last fires happened in the village of Damietta, where the fire spread from a farm to the neighboring buildings, and at a school in Sharqeya. The first one hit were the general headquarters of the Cairo governorate in Abdeen, and the popular market in Al-Attaba: three dead, 91 wounded, 236 shops damaged. Here, in Al-Attaba, the rage of artisans and small traders has exploded. The media, they say, do not tell the truth: Behind these, there the hand of an arsonist, someone — the state — interested in pushing the small vendors away from Cairo or in turning attention away from anti-government protests.