Egypt has been through several revolutions in the last decade, but everything seems to have ended even worse than it started.
Egypt has been through one humanitarian crisis after another in the last decade. According to Freedom House, Egypt is amongst the least free states globally. It is no wonder: Egyptians’ human rights have been repressed for many years by the very authoritarian who helped overthrow the former government years ago.
In its effort to wean itself off Russian gas, Europe has been looking for alternative suppliers, and Egypt ranks amongst the potential favourites. Trade in gas could benefit both sides. However, it should be conditional on improving the rule of law in Egypt.
Tyrant after tyrant
To describe the last decade in Egypt, one would probably only need two words: utter chaos. The country has gone through several presidents and two coups in the short period. The consequence of these years of turmoil was that the original long-ruling authoritarian Mubarak was replaced by an evenworse tyrannical despot, Abd al-Fattáh as-Sísí.
Like many other authoritarians, Sísí relies on the army’s support, as he was Egypt’s commander in chief before the coup, and after he got into power, he started deftly getting the courts under his control. As Egypt’s president, Sísí has the power to appoint Egypt’s leading judges, including the Prosecutor General. Most courts are therefore corrupt and work for the President’s benefit.
Yet Egypt is even worse off when it comes to the independence of the judiciary. Last year, a new lawentered into force, making it possible to refer civilians charged with criminal offences to military tribunals. These tribunals are known to act in the army’s interests and convict defendants based on absurd, trumped-up charges.
Political plurality and freedom of expression are also in an atrocious state. Many political parties have been banned, and in the parliament, half of the 568 MPs are elected from closed candidate lists. The President also has the right to appoint 28 “extra” MPs.
2020 saw the first Senate election since 2014 when the Senate had been abolished. A hundred Senators are elected as individual candidates, while another hundred are part of a closed candidate list where people only vote for parties. The remaining hundred are appointed by the President, who therefore has de facto full control over the Senate. The Senate also barely has any significant legislative powers, playing more of an aesthetic role.
Prison for all
The Egyptian government has been clinging to power mainly by using a great deal of terror against its own citizens. Anyone who says anything against the government can end up in prison – opposition politicians, judges, or even bloggers. In 2015, the President enacted an anti-terrorism law, enabling the police to arrest almost anybody due to its vague definition of terrorism. In 2021, Egypt ranked third globally in terms of incarcerated journalists, and its prisons currently hold an estimated120,000 people.
The abuse of prisons and circumvention of judgements are also prevalent. Law enforcement authorities keep people detained long past the legal date by fabricating new charges. When someone is to be released from pre-trial detention, they are charged with similar offences as before by the authorities and detained again for several years. It is basically impossible to fight against this “rotation”, and the government uses it to keep many political rivals and human rights defenders in prison.
At the same time, the state of Egyptian prisons is absolutely alarming. Especially political prisoners often report horrendous torture and reprehensible treatment by law enforcement. Guards beat prisoners, torture them with electric shocks , and put them in solitary confinement for unspecified periods of time. The prisons are often overcrowded, and prisoners live in horrible sanitary conditions. Amnesty International stated that at least 56 people died in Egyptian prisons in 2021 due to the bad conditions, and four more died of the after-effects of torture.
Some people don’t even have the “luxury” of life in prison. Egypt still has the death penalty, and courts often sentence people to death in unjust and rushed trials.  
Discrimination of minorities
Imprisonment and curtailing of human rights do not only apply to journalists or critics of the regime. Currently, Egyptian lawmakers have been discussing legislation that would strip women of most rights. Women need to manage administrative tasks, such as registering their children in schools, through their husbands, even long after their divorce. The law also grants male guardians the right to annul women’s marriages through courts without their consent.
Women are also prosecuted for unreasonable and fabricated charges. Last year, two female influencers were sentenced to six and ten years in prison for their behaviour and inciting “immodest” content. Women also get no justice in cases of sexual abuse. Last spring, the authorities acquitted all the defendants in a 2014 case where a woman was gang-raped in a Cairo hotel.
Sexual minorities and LGBT+ people also still get prosecuted and sentenced to extremely long prison times. Courts sentence members of sexual minorities to up to 9 years in prison. Even a TV host was sentenced to at least one year in prison for interviewing a gay man on air.
The Egyptian Christian community, amounting to 5-15 % of Egyptian citizens, is also plagued with problems. The government is incapable of protecting the Christians of the northern Sinai region from local radicals with ties to the Islamic State, who have been oppressing and murdering them for years. Quite on the contrary: In 2016, the government adopted a discriminatory law on church construction and repairs aimed at Christians, which stipulates that any church must be approved by local law enforcement. Since the law entered into force, only 20 % of applicants have successfully been registered.
Europe can help!
The European Union has been turning a blind eye to the brutality of Sísí’s regime for a long time. During Sísí’s last visit to Brussels, at the EU summit with the African Union, politicians even praisedthe dictator for the way he has been combating terrorism and illegal migration.
Politicians and NGOs have been trying to mitigate the situation n Egypt for years, but to no avail so far. Last year, the United States suspended a military aid package worth 130 million dollars for Egypt until the human rights situation in the country improved. This year, European politicians called on the UN to monitor human rights violations in Egypt.
However, if Europe really wants to help Egypt and stop these blatant human rights violations, it has an ideal opportunity. Egypt is currently in danger of losing a vast stream of wheat imports it has been used to getting due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Food shortages and unaffordable food could cause Egypt to sink into an even worse humanitarian disaster and more chaos.
Europe could mitigate this a great deal by buying Egyptian gas. However, it should make this trade conditional on Egypt improving its rule of law – by increasing the independence of its judiciary, relaxing media censorship, or tackling some discrimination against women and minorities.
This would be a win-win transaction for both: Europe would get the gas supply it needs, while Egypt would avoid war-fuelled famine, get the funds it needs by exporting gas, and Egyptian citizens would gain more rights and freedoms.
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