‘A Fig Leaf’
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Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi pardoned 35 political prisoners over the weekend, including the prominent Arab Spring activist Ahmed Douma, a move aimed at improving Egypt’s human rights record as it seeks badly needed international funding, the Washington Post reported.
Douma was one of the key figures in the mass demonstrations during the popular revolution that swept Egypt in 2011 and led to the fall of the longtime president, Hosni Mubarak.
Since then, he has spent around a decade behind bars because of his activism. Initially, he was detained by the government of Mubarak and his successor Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president elected after the uprising.
In 2013, the military government that ousted Morsi – and later brought el-Sisi to power – sentenced Douma to three years in prison for violating protest laws. But in a 2015 trial, his sentence was increased to 15 years, a case that human rights groups called “grossly unfair and politically motivated.”
Douma’s imprisonment underscored el-Sisi’s tough crackdown on dissent over the past decade which has seen thousands of journalists, academics and activists arrested on political grounds.
The releases come as Egypt is in dire need of foreign funding to mitigate its economic crisis.
In 2021, the US attached human-rights conditions to security aid for Egypt. By early 2022, it had withheld $130 million from Egypt’s annual $1.3 billion of US security assistance.
In response, the Egyptian government has taken steps to improve the country’s human rights record, including proposing a national dialogue for political and social reforms, as well as reactivating the committee charged with administering presidential pardons of detainees.
So far, more than 1,400 people have been released from pretrial detention.
While human rights advocates welcomed the pardons, some noted that the government is still arresting critics. Others cautioned that the recent releases “should be seen as a fig leaf designed to detract from the vast scope of the human rights violations.”