Egypt: President Sisi grants pardon to Ahmed Douma, a prominent figure of the 2011 revolution.
On Saturday, the Egyptian president pardoned activist Ahmed Douma, who played a key role in the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. The opposition leader and founder of the April 6th movement had been incarcerated since 2013 and was serving a 15-year sentence for violence during demonstrations.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi pardoned Ahmed Douma on Saturday, August 19th, a prominent figure in the 2011 “revolution”, in a new sign sent less than a year before the presidential election. Ahmed Douma, one of the founders of the April 6th movement that played a key role in the revolution that overthrew the autocrat Hosni Mubarak, has been serving a 15-year sentence since 2013 for violence during protests.
Khaled Ali, a human rights lawyer and a leftist figure like Ahmed Douma, announced that he is “waiting for his release” while filming himself outside Badr prison, east of Cairo.
Book of poems
37-year-old Ahmed Douma published a book of poems called “Curly” using pieces of paper secretly passed to lawyers from his isolation cell. His book was exhibited at the Cairo Book Fair in 2021 but quickly removed for “security reasons”.
This new pardon comes as Cairo actively conducts a “national dialogue” meant to discuss sensitive issues in this country of 105 million inhabitants, grappling with an economic crisis and where the opposition has been silenced for a decade.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Wednesday that he had received the first recommendations from this “dialogue” and had “transmitted them to be implemented”.
While he has not announced it, the Head of State is unanimously believed to be considering running in the presidential election scheduled for spring 2024.
In this context, presidential pardons – dormant for years but revived in 2022 – have multiplied.
In July, researcher Patrick Zaki – sentenced to three years in prison for “false information” – and lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer – sentenced after his arrest in the middle of a courtroom while assisting his client Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egypt’s most famous political prisoner – were granted pardons. Several other opponents have also been released in recent months.
Once Ahmed Douma is released, which usually happens the day after the announcement of the pardon, Alaa Abdel Fattah will be the last remaining emblematic figure still held.
Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), denounces an act of the prince dictated by pressure from both Egypt and elsewhere.
“The regime is aware of the growing frustrations” arising from “unfulfilled promises and the fact that nothing is changing on the ground,” he told AFP.
In Washington, some voices regularly demand the cutting off of military aid to Cairo in retaliation for human rights violations. In Egypt itself, where devaluation and inflation are suffocating households, social anger is brewing, even reaching the institutions.
“Some major opposition parties are now publicly threatening to withdraw from the national dialogue because it has had no impact on the political scene,” explains Hossam Bahgat.
At least 24 deaths in detention since January
Ahmed Douma’s pardon remains, nonetheless, “very good news” as he is one of “the most hated activists of the regime,” concedes Hossam Bahgat. “But the problem remains the same: the regime is trying to empty the ocean with a teaspoon” through “random choices without transparency or explanation as to why some are released and others are ignored,” he continues.
In fact, the released activists are generally liberals, while the majority of Egypt’s thousands of political prisoners are suspected of having ties to Islamists – primarily the Muslim Brotherhood of Mohamed Morsi, the former president overthrown by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
In the past year, the presidential pardons committee has released nearly a thousand prisoners, according to the authorities. However, NGOs temper this by pointing out that almost “three times as many people have been arrested in the same period”. Some have even been arrested again.
The authorities refuse to disclose the number of people incarcerated, even as new prisons are regularly inaugurated.
Since January, activists have documented 24 deaths in detention, including six in these new “rehabilitation centers” intended to replace the country’s dozens of dilapidated prisons, complete with libraries and workshops.
Egypt, ranked 135th out of 140 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, is one of the countries that make the most use of the death penalty. According to Washington, Cairo violates human rights in all areas, from prisons to freedom of expression and LGBTQ+ rights. AFP