May 30, 2017
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi on Monday enacted a law imposing strict new regulations on aid groups, stoking fears that his government intends to accelerate its crackdown on human rights activists before a presidential election scheduled for next year.
The new law, which some aid groups predict will force them to shut down, was approved by Egypt’s Parliament in November last year, but Al Sissi hesitated to sign it after trenchant criticism from Western officials, most notably Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who threatened to restrict US aid to Egypt if the legislation was approved.
But recently, Al Sissi has appeared emboldened by a burgeoning friendship with President Donald Trump, who has hailed the Egyptian strongman as a “fantastic guy” and indicated that he did not intend to allow human rights issues to sour their relationship.
Having welcomed Al Sissi to Washington last month, Trump met with him again during his visit last week to Saudi Arabia, where the two leaders were photographed touching a glowing orb alongside King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia. On his return to Egypt, Al Sissi’s government pushed through new press restrictions and prosecuted a rival political leader in the courts, further squeezing political rights and free speech.
On May 23, police arrested Khalid Ali, a prominent human rights lawyer who led opposition to Al Sissi’s decision early last year to hand over possession of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. That agreement angered the Egyptian public, and it is one of the few issues where Al Sissi is considered politically vulnerable.
Some saw the arrest as part of an effort by Al Sissi to clear the field of rivals before next year’s presidential election. If Ali, one of those rivals, is convicted on charges of “violating public morals”, he faces a potential two-year prison sentence and will be disqualified from running for office.