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HRW: Protests are scaring Egypt’s government

Egyptian self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ali looks at his laptop during an interview in an office near Barcelona on October 23, 2019. - Exiled Egyptian businessman, whose viral videos sparked rare small-scale protests in Egypt in September, says he is working with the opposition to topple President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and calls for fresh demonstrations in the coming weeks. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP) (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)
Egyptian self-exiled businessman Mohamed Ali looks at his laptop during an interview in an office near Barcelona on October 23, 2019 [JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images]

The mass arrests and heavy-handed response to the 20 September protesters show how deeply Egypt’s authorities fear mass protests, writes MENA researcher for Human Rights Watch Amr Magdi.

“What these protests tell us is that Egyptians have not given up on their human rights, despite living under a government that makes it very costly to exercise those rights.”

On 20 September, protests erupted in some of the country’s poorest villages and towns, from Damietta in the north, to Luxor and Aswan in the south.

Egyptians were responding to a call by exiled whistleblower Mohamed Ali, and were spurred on by rising poverty and soaring prices, which left many unable to buy food.

Ongoing economic austerity has been compounded by the global coronavirus pandemic. On top of this, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are at risk of being made homeless after the government stipulated they must make a down payment for reconciliation if their homes are constructed ‘illegally’.

READ: PTSD. Anxiety. Nightmares: Life after prison for Egypt’s child detainees

If they do not make the payment, their homes will be demolished. Thousands have had their homes destroyed without receiving compensation.

Since the protests started, some 2,000 people have been arrested, according to the human rights lawyer Khaled Ali.

According to Belady, 110 minors and children were swept up in the crackdown. By 9 October, 79 were released and 31 remained in detention.

Two of the child detainees, Yahya Qader and Mohammed Amad, were 11 and 12 years old.

Security forces have responded with tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the protesters. Forces shot Awais Al-Rawi in the head, killing him, after he objected to them entering his home in Luxor without a warrant.

On the first ‘Friday of Rage’, forces shot 25-year-old Samy Basheer in Giza whilst he was demonstrating.

Despite all of the arrests, repression and heavy-handed response, Egyptians are still going out onto the streets and demanding their rights.

“As the tenth anniversary of the January 2011 uprising approaches,” writes Magdi, “September’s protests should remind the government that repression cannot guarantee stability.”

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