July 16, 2017
A prominent Egyptian lawyer faces trial for making an obscene gesture, as Egypt’s president bullies rivals ahead of his re-election bid
If Khaled Ali is worried, he isn’t showing it. Sitting behind a wooden desk in his office in downtown Cairo, the prominent human rights attorney is discussing his case with the calm remove of a lawyer defending his client. Only this time, Ali is the one on trial.
In May, Egyptian authorities arrested Ali, a possible presidential candidate in the Egyptian elections early next year, on charges of “offending public decency” for making a rude hand gesture outside a Cairo courthouse. Ali made the gesture in January, in celebration of a ruling by one of Egypt’s highest courts in a lawsuit he had filed against the government of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for transferring control of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The agreement, which many Egyptians believe el-Sissi made in exchange for billions of dollars in Saudi aid and investment, sparked rare street protests last year, despite heavy legal restrictions on demonstrations. Though Ali prevailed that day, he ultimately lost the suit. El-Sissi bypassed the courts and sought approval from Parliament, which ratified the deal on June 14.
Ali claims he was arrested in retaliation for his challenges to the regime, including the lawsuit, and his announcement in February that he was considering a presidential run. The charge against him, which Amnesty International has called “absurd,” has come to symbolize el-Sissi’s many efforts to stamp out any possible rivals. “There is no justified reason for my arrest,” Ali tells Newsweek. “It was an attempt to scare me.”
Ali has not been scared into compliance. If the verdict in his trial doesn’t prevent it, he still might run in next year’s election.