Wednesday, June 29

Egypt’s Political Prisoners Have Little Hope, and the West Must Share the Blame | Jack shenker

I I don’t remember where I met Karim Medhat Ennarah, but one thing I’m sure of is that I heard him before I saw him. Karim, a 37-year-old sociable and argumentative man with a constant passion for ice cream and a smile so wide that it fills the room, is always brimming with ideas about the world. His curiosity reveals the same in others, with the result that a lively and noisy debate tends to swarm around him wherever he moves.

I have known Karim for over a decade in many different ways: in his public role as a courageous human rights defender working to protect the dignity of his fellow Egyptians, but also as a shisha partner, soccer rival and friend. At the end of last year, when plainclothes security forces pulled him off a Red Sea beach and He took it At Tora’s high-security prison complex in Cairo, it became something new to me: a number. Just one more political prisoner facing an unknowable fate, under a regime that, since 2013, is estimated to have detained or charged at least 60,000 others.

The diabolical genius of dictatorships is their relentlessness. We can understand the tragedy of a life ruined by state violence, and we can expand that sense of loss to encompass two victims, five or ten. But when thousands upon thousands of people are uprooted from their communities, leaving behind an ever-expanding collage of absences – an empty seat at the family dining room table, a text message from a lover who has no answer – the absolute level of harm. The human involved begins to erase the humanity of those who suffer from it. In the Egypt of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a military general turned authoritarian despot under whose rule forced disappearences, detention without trial, police torture (including against children) Y massive death sentences all have become commonplace, that level was reached a long time ago. The challenge, for anyone who cares, is trying to recover some of that humanity.

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And that is why I write about Karim, who, thanks to the courage of his colleagues and a great international campaign, has been freed from Tora and whose situation is, fortunately, much less dangerous today than that of many others. Karim, who heads the criminal justice unit at the Egyptian Initiative on Personal Rights (EIPR), one of the last remaining Egyptian human rights groups in the Sisi era, was arrested in November along with the organization’s director, Gasser Abdel-Razek, and its administrative manager, Mohammed Basheer. All three were accused of being members of a terrorist organization and of spreading false news, a standard set of fabricated accusations against anyone deemed subversive by the regime.

Part of the EIPR’s role is to investigate the mistreatment of prisoners, and during interrogations detainees were asked why they had fabricated accounts of the bleak conditions inmates faced, even when they were sitting in those same conditions. Perhaps the only saving grace of tyranny is that it can have a wicked (albeit unintentional) sense of humor. Ten years after the revolutionary uprising that plunged their world into chaos, Egypt’s rulers have gone beyond an attempt to simply stifle dissent; now they are locked in a war against reality itself.

Unlike most of those caught up in the perpetual security crackdown in Egypt, Karim and his colleagues have a high profile, and quickly began diplomatic representatives from European countries, as well as international celebrities, activists and journalists. asking for his freedom. In December, the trio was allowed to leave, but the charges against them remain in force, as does the freezing of their bank accounts and a ban on them leaving the country. A legal appeal against those restrictions is underway, but another top EIPR figure, Hossam Bahgat, has just had a new criminal case. Opened against him for the “crime” of tweeting about electoral fraud. A fourth member of the EIPR, researcher Patrick Zaki, remains in jail: He was subjected to beatings and electric shocks when arrested, his lawyers say, and has now been held in pre-trial detention for about 500 days.

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For Karim, who married his British wife a few weeks before being arrested and had been planning To start a new life with her in London earlier this year, one form of incarceration has simply been replaced by another, of a kind that poses a less immediate danger to her safety but is still plagued by paralysis and pain. His story is not the most egregious example of Egyptian state brutality, not even a typical one. Karim, who has spent so much time advocating for others, would prefer the spotlight to focus on those who are least likely to generate headlines, such as Ahmed Samir Santawy, another young student and investigator who was arrested on trumped-up charges in February and received a four-year prison sentence by an emergency court earlier this week. But Karim’s story is nonetheless one that I have seen up close and one that is particularly important for two reasons.

The first is that if Karim is threatened, despite all his relative privileges, all Egyptians are threatened. The second, related reason is that it is not only the Egyptian government that is ultimately responsible for their plight, but also our own political leaders.

The British Foreign Office, to its credit, publicly condemned the attack on the EIPR and lobbied its Egyptian counterpart behind the scenes. But valuable comments on human rights and free speech ring hollow when Egypt’s dictatorship enjoys the financial backing and political patronage of presidents and prime ministers across the global north. Every year the United States sends more money to Egypt than any other country on Earth except Israel; less than three weeks after Karim’s arrest, Emmanuel Macron awarded Sisi France highest order of merit, the Legion of Honor. Last year, Boris Johnson rolled out the Downing Street red carpet for the President of Egypt, who in 2013 oversaw the slaughter of almost 1,000 anti-government protesters in a single day.

This feast of authoritarianism is partly explained by the conviction that Sisi is a bulwark against violent extremism Y mass migration in the region, despite scant evidence of its effectiveness on both fronts. But Sisi’s real value to his Western backers lies in his check book: Egypt’s security forces are equipped with “French fighter jets, Italian frigates, German submarines and British assault rifles.” Then there is your regimen growing entrenchment in an international financial system that ensures its own stability is aligned with the economic concerns of the world’s richest nations and the largest multinational forces, including one of Britain’s largest companies, BP, which in recent years invested more in Egypt than anywhere else. Last month, Britain’s ambassador to Cairo acclaimed a visit from a senior UK military official as proof of “our continued commitment to working with Egypt to strengthen our defense relationships: from defense acquisitions, to training, to sharing experience.”

In January 2011, he was alongside Karim at the time when dictator Hosni Mubarak was finally ousted from power. Karim had never met any other ruler, and while he will curse me for saying it, he had tears in his eyes as he contemplated what the future might hold. Today, vast swaths of that generation languish behind bars, or under travel bans, or are consigned to exile.

It is time for Sisi supporters, including Britain, to stop uttering trivia and to start applying significant pressure to ensure these changes. The collective humanity embodied by Karim and the tens of thousands of other Egyptian political prisoners is too vital to keep in a cage.

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