Egypt: Popular anger at islands transfer highlights Egypt’s polarized society

June 20, 2017

A legal battle over a controversial Egyptian-Saudi maritime border demarcation agreement on two Red Sea islands threatens to spill over onto the streets, as protests condemning the deal erupt in Cairo and other major Egyptian cities.

Under the agreement signed on April 8, 2016, Egypt is to cede control of the two islands, Tiran and Sanafir, to Saudi Arabia. The government says the islands are in fact Saudi Arabian but have been in Egyptian custody since 1950. Many Egyptians are skeptical and believe the government is giving the islands to Saudi Arabia as gifts in gratitude for the generous aid the kingdom has pumped into Egypt since the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

On June 16, dozens of demonstrators marched through the streets of downtown Cairo in defiance of an anti-protest law in place since November 2013 to protest parliament’s approval of the transfer of sovereignty of the two islands.

“Most of those taken into custody are activists and members of political parties who oppose the agreement,” he told Al-Monitor, adding that many of them were arrested outside their party offices or in police raids on their homes. He described the latest wave of arrests that has also targeted members of his own Bread and Freedom Party as “a vicious security campaign reminiscent of Nasser’s dawn raids” — in reference to the rounding up of dissenters in late night raids by former military ruler Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secret police, often without arrest warrants.

“All those arrested in Cairo for opposing the islands deal have been released on bail save for two who remain in police custody,” he said, adding that the activists arrested in provinces outside the capital are still detained.

Human rights lawyer Tarek Hussein — a member of both the liberal Al Dostour Party and the Freedom for the Brave campaign (a civil society organization working to advance the rights of detainees) who was arrested at his home in a dawn raid on June 17 — is among those still in police custody despite prosecutors at El Khanka police station ordering his release on bail for 2,000 Egyptian pounds (around $110) the day after his arrest. He has been charged with “inciting protests” and “having ties to a terrorist group.” Police told his defense lawyers that they had to make sure there are no other charges against Hussein before releasing him. Hussein had twice before been convicted — and later acquitted — in separate cases and, ironically, on widely conflicting charges of “belonging to a terrorist organization” (in reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood) and attempting to overthrow Morsi, who hails from the Islamist group.

186 km in a Hot Tin Box

Lawyer and rights defender, Tarek (Tito) was ordered released on a bail of £E2,000.00 three days ago. The bail was paid immediately but Tarek has not been released. First he was beaten in the police station. Then they said they’d send him round other police stations because of “other cases against him”.

This post from Mohamed Eissa El Sarawe who was able to see Tarek and speak to him as he sat in the police transport outside Zeinhom Court: “In the morning a police transport moved Tarek from Khanka police station (where he was being held) to al-Salam police station. They passed by Abu Za3bal prison to pick up some prisoners. The car then moved to Banha Courthouse and then to Zeinhom where they were bringing prisoners to court. Tarek had vomited blood and we asked him to break his fast but he said no, he would continue. We asked the policeman in charge of the transport what would happen next. He said they would go back to al-Salam police station then they were due at Ein Shams police station at around one in the morning. So why is this happening? We’ve learned that the CID of Khanka police station said to Tarek ‘let’s see if the people behind you can do you any good’. “

For those unfamiliar with our geography and our transports: The police transport is a metal truck with two benches along the sides. It has no ventilation system and no suspension. The heat in Cairo yesterday was 34 degrees. So yesterday, Tarek, as punishment, was placed in a hot metal box and shaken around for 186 km.

Mona Seif asks “Is Tarek being punished because everyone has a story about his helpfulness and chivalry? Or because he and his brother were in prison before and got out? Or because he’s chosen to be a rights lawyer and help those in need? Or because of his membership in the Dustour Party and his belief that there should be real party work in Egypt connecting to public concerns? Or because he’s one of the people who worked to prove that Tiran and Sanafir are Egyptian?”

Latest: One hour ago Tarek’s brother wrote that they’ve been unable to find out anything about his whereabouts today.




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