Wed, 19 Jun 2019

Egypt now: A conversation with Amira Abdelhamid

16 Dec 2018, 00:49 GMT+10

How would you describe the state of freedom of expression in Egypt today?

Successive Egyptian governments have attempted to, and succeeded in closing the physical public space. Threats to national security are immediately invoked in the official discourse and on different media platforms, in particular concerning protests and efforts to mobilise around human rights principles.

Laws such as the protest law of 2013 and the state of emergency that was declared in April 2017 enabled the complete closure of the very little space that was left for direct action and free speech. More recently, the government has continued its crackdown on free speech and expression in the virtual sphere, where Egypt witnessed a surge in the number of individuals prosecuted for expressing their opinions online.

This has meant that the Association for Freedom of Thought (AFTE) has concentrated more attention and resources to monitor and document these cases, provide legal support to the victims, and publish in-depth analyses of the implications of this online crackdown.

Activists who use the internet as a means of voicing their views against the current regime continue to be held under pre-trial detention. Blogger Wael Abbas is one of the most prominent of these activists [note: Abbas was released on 11 December during the exchange], as well as activist Amal Fathi, who was sentenced to two years in prison in September of this year, after posting a video on her Facebook account criticising the government's inaction on the epidemic of sexual harassment in Egypt.

There has been a systematic effort by the government to legalise such rights violations. President Sisi ratified four new laws, with the aim of controlling the media and the internet. It is apparent that the practices of the current regime are no longer limited to restricting opposition protests, they also prevent any opposition to amending the Constitution to allow Sisi to remain in power.

How are these laws being used to crack down on freedom of expression?

The internet is being constructed, both legally and socially, as a threat to national security and to the national fabric of Egyptian society. Human rights defenders and activists are attempting to counter these practices and discourses, whether through direct litigation on the unconstitutionality of the recently enacted laws, or through circumventing the restrictive enforcement of these laws.

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