The Egyptian authorities have quietly clamped down on the sales of reflective yellow vests fearing that they could prompt copycat protests inspired by the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations taking place in France. The measure was taken as a precaution as Egypt approaches the seventh anniversary next month of the revolution that toppled the dictator Hosni Mubarak after a 30-year rule. Any form of public gatherings are banned.
According to testimonies from industrial equipment dealers in Cairo, retailers have been instructed not to sell yellow vests to walk-in buyers and to restrict business to wholesale deals with verified companies, but only after obtaining permission from the security forces.
“They seem not to want anyone to do what they are doing in France,” said one retailer. Another added that, “The police came here a few days back and told us to stop selling them. When we asked why, they said they were acting on instructions.” Both spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
Security officials confirmed that the restrictions would remain in place until the end of January, but the Interior Ministry refused to comment on the issue. Over the past two years, hundreds of police officers and soldiers have been deployed across the country to quash any protests or commemorations of the revolution.
The yellow vests worn by French protesters have become a symbol of the wave of demonstrations against a rise in fuel taxes and the economic policies of French President Emmanuel Macron.
Egyptian media outlets have covered the Paris protests regularly, stressing the riots, looting and arson, in an attempt to support Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s frequent warnings that street action leads to chaos. In October, Al-Sisi even described the 2011 Egyptian revolution as “the wrong cure to the wrong diagnosis,” stating that the protests had achieved insufficient change due to a lack of understanding among the people of what the problems in the country were.
Egypt has witnessed a dramatic crackdown on freedom of speech since the military coup in 2013 that brought Al-Sisi, then a general, to power. The government has also increased regulatory legislation on the grounds of “national security”. The Muslim Brotherhood, which played an instrumental role in the revolution and was subsequently elected to govern, has since been banned and declared a terrorist group.
Amnesty International has described the situation in Egypt as the worst human rights crisis in the country in decades, with the state systematically using arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances to silence any dissent and create an atmosphere of fear. Hundreds of journalists and human rights activists have also been arrested and held without trial.
The government in Cairo has criticised the findings of many NGOs and accused them of being deliberately “misleading” about human rights abuses in Egypt.