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Wave of Egyptian protest anger 'justified'

Sarah Salama
October 1, 2019

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's regime has responded to recent anti-government protests with a wave of arrests. Human rights activist Gamal Eid tells DW that the state "must apologize" for its oppression.

Ägypten Kairo | Anti-Regierungsproteste
Image: Reuters/M. Abd El Ghany

DW: According to human rights organizations, up to 2,000 people have been arrested in Egypt in recent weeks — including Alaa Abdel-Fattah, one of the democracy movement's leading activists who was just released in March after five years in prison. How do you feel about the way the Egyptian regime is handling the protests?

Gamal Eid: The wave of arrests is the wrong way to deal with the Egyptian people's anger. Their indignation is the result of an economic policy that pushed the people to their limits, the result of political oppression that has been going on for years. The state should use other means to respond to people's dissatisfaction, it should seek a dialogue, understand why ordinary people are upset and, above all, to apologize for the misappropriation of public funds. The government has chosen the path of oppression. This does nothing to calm down the situation and will provoke people's anger even more.

Read more: Muslim Brotherhood or el-Sissi rivals who is behind Egypt's protests?

Human rights organizations have called on the Egyptian government to release political prisoners — a demand that has not been met. Will President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's regime simply continue like before?

Gamal Eid in Cairo
Gamal Eid is a prominent human rights activist in EgyptImage: Privat

That's a question for the government to answer. I would like to know how they can deny the demonstrations and arrest 2,000 people at the same time. That is proof that the state authorities are lying.

Will the government succeed in preventing more protests — now and in the long run?

State oppression of the people is always doomed to fail, it can only provide peace for a certain period of time. It is not a successful way to deal with people's anger. Without a fair dialogue and real political improvements, the situation could escalate and get out of hand fast.

What do you think will happen next?

Anything is possible in this situation. I hope the government won't do what [former President Hosni] Mubarak did in 2011 before he was overthrown, which is to continue the repression. That is very dangerous not only for the government but for society as a whole.

What course of action would you suggest?

The state must stop arresting people; it must release people who ended up in prison because of their political stance. As a first step, laws and human rights must be respected. The Egyptians would recognize the state's concessions. But if the oppression continues, the regime will generate nothing but more anger. If the situation escalates, the state is to blame.

Read more: Egypt's suffering has reached its limits

The regime is in control of the roads and telecommunications in Egypt. What can the protest movement offer? Is it ultimately powerless against el-Sissi?

This powerful anger calls for an adequate reaction. These people are right, their anger is justified. It is unacceptable that people who have nothing to eat should watch their president build castles. That is not acceptable. There is only one alternative if the state really has an interest in ensuring stability: The state must apologize. I don't know what people will do, but they are angry, and angry people's reactions are unpredictable.

A man walks in front of a banner promoting a pro-Sissi constitutional referendum in Egypt
Government corruption and a struggling economy have emboldened many Egyptians to protest the el-Sissi regimeImage: Reuters/M. Abd El Ghany

Unlike in 2011, Western countries have not been very supportive of the protests so far. Why is that?

I am not interested in international positions. I am an Egyptian citizen interested in the observance of laws and human rights in Egypt. Human rights organizations have issued clear statements about the events. It is unacceptable that the media in Egypt should not report this and instead makes these organizations look bad.

Saudi Arabia and the United States support el-Sissi's government. Could the fact that these states are currently busy with their own affairs have an impact on him?

Donald Trump supports tyrants and Saudi Arabia has been hostile to the Arab Spring from the start. Nothing good can be expected from either of these states.

Gamal Eid is an Egyptian lawyer and human rights activist. He heads the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information and in 2004 joined the Kefaya movement that played a major role in the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Since 2016, he has been banned from leaving Egypt.