ECCD September 2019 Protests Briefing
What has happened?
Country wide protests have taken place in Egypt calling for the removal of President Sisi. The largest protests were in Alexandria and Suez, but there have been sizable protests in most Egyptian cities with thousands of protesters overall.
Initially, security forces did not hinder the protests, which have uniformly been peaceful. This was not for too long, as a few hours later police started to crack down on several cities using fire ballets in several occasions. Since Saturday, almost two thousands have been arrested and security forces moved to block access to the larger public squares in Cairo and other cities.
What triggered the protests?
A recent series of videos released on social media by Mr. Mohamed Ali, who identified himself as a former contractor for the Egyptian armed forces. The Egyptian military has a stranglehold on the country's economy and nearly all infrastructure projects are controlled by the army directly or indirectly.
In the videos, Mr. Ali provides detailed information about the massive corruption in the administration of multi-million dollar projects. Mr. Sisi and his family are directly tied to some of the worst excesses, with several projects specifically carried out for their personal benefit despite very harsh economic conditions prevailing in Egypt.
What is the significance of these particular protests?
Protests of any kind have become all but nonexistent in Egypt after the military coup that brought in Mr. Sisi. The military has implemented the most repressive measures in the modern history of Egypt, violently crushing protests in Rab'a square following the overthrow of democratically-elected President Morsi in 2013 and killing hundreds of peaceful protesters. Over the last six years, extra-judicial killings, harsh sentences in mass trials widely seen as farcical, arbitrary detention, and torture have become commonplace. Human rights groups estimate that there are 60,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Draconian laws have been passed by a docile parliament outlawing practically all avenues for meaningful peaceful opposition.
These protests, which have not been instigated by any organized political parties, with a diverse body of protesters, spread out through the country, and with thousands of protesters coming into the streets day after day are a significant departure from the controlled atmosphere that the regime has consistently tried to maintain.
What is the relevance to Canada?
Egyptian Canadians organized a number of rallies across Canada to symbolically show solidarity with the protesters in Egypt. Egyptian Canadians have come out in support of the protesters' main demand of the removal of Mr. Sisi and holding him accountable for the crimes of his regime.
Canada's official policy has long been one of silence towards the atrocities committed by the Egyptian regime, unlike the vocal stances it has adopted towards other human rights offenders such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Beyond the principle of defending human rights, the Canadian position is problematic, and may become more so in light of these protests, for a number of reasons:
• Canadian companies have bid for and won bids for some multi-million infrastructure projects in Egypt, which is troubling given the pervasive corruption in projects controlled by the Egyptian military.
• Egypt has detained Canadian citizens for lengthy intervals without due process and without formal charges. Among those currently detained is Oakville engineer Yasser Elbaz, who has been held without being formally charged for over six months.
• Canada has provided arms and training to Egyptian security forces. This has grave implications if the same security forces violently quell the current protests.
Analysis and Summary
Since the military coup in 2013, the Egyptian regime has marketed a vision of "stability" to Western governments. The two pillars of that vision have been quiet streets and a rising economy. These protests have exposed the regime on both counts. Economic figures appearing to demonstrate growth hide a grim reality of massive debt and pervasive corruption, both of which are destructive to the middle and working class. The increasing poverty coupled with the enormous gap between the military and the rest of the country contribute to rising anger among much of the populace. With such anger, the streets are unlikely to remain quiet. Regardless of the eventual resolution of this wave of protests, it demonstrates that the repressive measures adopted by the regime cannot produce stability and that whatever silence they engender is not sustainable.
About ECCD: The Egyptian Canadian Coalition for Democracy (ECCD) is a politically independent, non-affiliated pan Canadian organization that advocates for democracy and human rights in Egypt. The ECCD has representatives in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
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