Corruption in Egyptian Election Highlights Broader Issue of Suppression
When Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced his bid for presidency on January 19, experts agreed that his re-election was essentially guaranteed. From November to January, over five people, such as Egyptian lawyer Khaled Ali and Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, announced and then withdrew plans to run for president. Konsowa was detained by the army and then convicted of “expressing political opinions as a serving military.” Konsowa’s plight reflects the control that Sisi has over the elections and his increasing crackdown on opposition within Egypt.
Besides cutting down competition for the presidency to one opponent, Sisi and his government have been silencing news sources, accusing them of lying and spreading treasonous stories. These news outlets and journalists range from foreign media, such as the BBC, to even a pro-government commentator. One primary way that the government is doing this is by charging the news sources with spreading fake news. Fatma Serag, a lawyer with the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression that works with journalists, said that “the state is now using [the fake news charge] to harass journalists - anyone that publishes information they don't want.”
Mostafa al-Asar had yet to begin working on a documentary critical of Sisi when he was arrested on February 4 and charged with publishing fake news. Egyptian authorities say that curbing fake news is critical for maintaining national security. The public prosecutor is now trying to encourage citizens to report one another, with an announcement of telephone hotlines for citizens to give information about “news relying on lies and rumors.”
An editorial piece in the Guardian in January reported that “Egypt is at present a sham democracy. Real power resides with the army, which has lurked in the shadows but overseen an often brutal crackdown on opponents since 2013.” Western countries have continued to turn a blind eye to Sisi’s policies, but Egypt is at risk of “becoming a failed state.” European countries such as France, Germany, and Russia have been criticized for providing an increasingly large amount of weapons to Egypt. Critics say that the countries are seemingly giving a “stamp of approval” to political repression and rights abuse.
Major Western European arms dealers have shifted their focus to the Middle East and North Africa region, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar ranking among the top arms importers of the last five years. Western European countries have increased their sales from 9 percent to 25 percent of the market, and have been called out by groups such as Amnesty International, who have accused the countries of being complicit in “unlawful killings, forced disappearances, and torture” because of their arms sales.
It’s time for Western countries to stop supporting oppressive regimes that oppose the very democratic values that these countries claim to promote. Economic gain is not a good enough reason to provide arms to countries that take freedom away from their citizens and create policies that have, according to the Guardian editorial, “been the midwife to the birth of violent militant organizations.” Out of 115 countries surveyed in a Gallup poll, Egypt was one of four whose public said that their lives had been worse each year since 2014. Egypt’s presidential election should allow voters the chance to change the direction of the country, and other democratic nations must begin holding Sisi’s government accountable for its suppressive tactics.