Revolutionary activists who have been at the forefront of the struggle in Egypt are in the regime’s firing line. Mass jailings, rammed through without the slightest pretence of judicial procedure, are designed to behead the resurgent protest movement.
Several of those locked up are socialists fighting for democracy and a society that serves workers and the poor.
Egyptian judges recently handed down long jail terms to over 150 activists seized in the latest crackdown on protests. Over 100 defendants were given five-year jail sentences and large fines, and in another case 51 defendants received two-year jail sentences.
In Egypt today people can be jailed without any taking of evidence, any defence witnesses, nor any cross-examination of police.
Many cases are “heard” by judges in a matter of minutes, without the chance for lawyers to present a case, and often the only “evidence” heard is the opinions of secret police officers.
People are grabbed in their homes or off the streets, herded into detention, and presented to the court to have their sentence proclaimed by a judge.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s government is a key British ally in the region. It came to power following a military takeover in July 2013 but has come under increasing pressure.
Economically bankrupt and with internal divisions, it has lashed out in a desperate effort to break resistance.
Despite this, some of the largest protests for several years took place on 15 and 25 April. The flashpoint for the demonstrations was the regime’s decision to hand over the strategic Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia—which has bankrolled Sisi.
At some protests people called for “the fall of the regime”, a slogan from the 2011 revolution which ended dictator Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
Socialists and the left were central to these demonstrations, and they are now bearing the brunt of the repression.
Some of the people imprisoned recently have started a hunger strike. In a letter smuggled from prison they say, “We have started an open-ended full hunger strike in protest at the unjust and oppressive sentence that has been passed against us, while ignoring the simplest definitions of justice.
“Forty seven of us will join the strike, including engineers, doctors, students and labourers living on per-day salaries.
“We love life, and that’s exactly what pushed us towards this step since we found no other path to it. We enter our hunger-strike in defence of our dreams and future.”
Journalists fight back as regime covers up the truth
Sections of Egyptian journalists are refusing to be intimidated by the repression.
Last week hundreds gathered at the press syndicate (union) building in Cairo to discuss “the battle for dignity” and how to deal with a regime that tramples on the truth.
Police had stormed the syndicate’s premises on 1 May and arrested two journalists for allegedly “publishing false news” and “plotting to overthrow the regime.”
In response hundreds of journalists joined demonstrations chanting “Journalism is not a crime.”
An emergency syndicate meeting of over 2,000 people voted to boycott all news relating to the interior minister.
It agreed to publish his photo “in a negative context only” and demanded that the president apologise for the storming of the syndicate office.
A parliamentary debate saw regime-friendly MPs lay into the journalists and accuse them of clearing the path for terrorism.
Mostafa Bakri MP claimed the syndicate had turned its building into a sanctuary for “revolutionary socialists”, the radical 6 April movement and the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Khaled El-Balshy, the head of the Freedom Committee of the Journalists’ Syndicate, has said, “We may go on a general journalists’ strike or refrain from publishing or editing.
“These are proposals to be discussed by the next assembly.”
Don’t let them rot in Sisi’s jails
Conditions in Egypt’s jails are horrific. The hot weather is making conditions particularly dangerous as detainees swelter in the heat.
Prisoners have to bribe guards to use the toilet or to wash.
Asmaa Aly, wife of detained lawyer
Malek Adly wrote on Facebook, “Malek is in solitary confinement and has not been allowed out to see the sun, or even to leave the cell.
“The water and food they give him are filthy and he has not been allowed any visits at all.”
Dr Taher Mokhtar, who has campaigned over prison conditions, was arrested in January and remains in detention.
International solidarity is crucial.
A statement against the jailings is supported by a wide range of campaigners, trade unionists, politicians and academics, including the shadow chancellor John McDonnell.