Sisi turns the screw in Egypt

The need to defeat Isis should not blind western governments to their obligation to confront Egypt on its human rights abuses


A new law giving authorities sweeping powers to crack down on individuals and groups who “undermine national unity” or threaten public order “by any means” is the latest turn of the screw by Egypt’s increasingly brutal, authoritarian government. The decree signed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi allows a panel of judges to name someone as a terrorist at a prosecutor’s request and without a trial, freezing their assets, excluding them from public life and banning them from travel. It was published a day after a Cairo court sentenced one of the country’s most prominent democracy activists, Alaa Abd El Fattah, to five years in prison for violating a law banning unauthorised protests. Mr Abd El Fattah had been jailed under the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak and was arrested under the rule of Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president overthrown by Mr Sisi in 2013.

Mr Sisi was cheered by many, perhaps most, Egyptians, when he led a coup against Mr Morsi’s increasingly unpopular government. Since taking power, however, Mr Sisi’s government has killed more than 1500 protesters, most of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, and jailed tens of thousands. Egypt’s courts routinely sentence large groups of political dissidents to death after the most cursory of legal rituals that are a mockery of justice. Meanwhile, the old tyrant Mubarak, his corrupt family and cronies are being released from detention and are even returning to public life, with leading figures from the old regime seeking election to parliament.

Official criticism of Mr Sisi from the United States and Europe, always muted, has diminished to a whisper since the Egyptian strongman has become a key ally in the struggle against the so-called Islamic State, or Isis. Egypt launched air strikes against targets in Libya after radical Islamists based there beheaded a group of Egyptian Coptic Christians. The need to defeat Isis should not, however, blind western governments to their obligation to confront Egypt on its human rights abuses and to maintain pressure on Mr Sisi to end his bloody crackdown on dissent.