Egyptian human rights activists are calling on their fellow countrymen to protest against the government on November 11, during the COP27 United Nations climate change international conference held in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
According to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, more than 70 people have been arrested in Egypt for encouraging people via social media platforms to take part in the demonstrations.
What will the convention be about?
According to the United Nations website, the Convention of Parties (COP), is the biggest and most important annual climate-related conference on the planet. The conference, scheduled to be held between November 6 and 18, will address the worldwide energy crisis caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, against the backdrop of extreme weather events globally and the world's emissions of carbon.
Has there been enough attention on the human rights issue in Egypt?
Dr. Nicolai Due-Gundersen, a lecturer at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and author of Defending Dictatorship, told The Media Line that these anti-government protests, which coincide with the COP27, may hope to draw the attention of the international audience taking part in the conference, as the protesters believe that there has not been enough attention on the issue of human rights in Egypt coming from the international community.
“This is true especially as there has not been much noise made over (President Abdel Fattah) el-Sisi’s treatment of Egyptians by world leaders. In fact, (US President Joe) Biden was accused of U-turning on Sisi’s human rights record, favoring a productive US-Egypt partnership over accountability for Sisi,” Due-Gundersen said.
He added that some observers have labeled Sisi as “Mubarak 2.0,” a reference to former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled for three decades before being overthrown in a revolution during the 2011 Arab Spring. “He is ruling with an iron grip and Egypt’s economy has gotten progressively worse, with many Egyptians in a desperate situation,” he said.
“This is true especially as there has not been much noise made over (President Abdel Fattah) el-Sisi’s treatment of Egyptians by world leaders. In fact, (US President Joe) Biden was accused of U-turning on Sisi’s human rights record, favoring a productive US-Egypt partnership over accountability for Sisi,”Dr. Nicolai Due-Gunderson
Dr. Noha Bakr, a professor of political science in Egypt, says that the Egyptian people do not attribute the rough economic situation of the country to the government, but to external events.
Egyptians, she told The Media Line, "mostly recognize that the hike in prices is due to global conditions and there is a level of satisfaction of the development on social and economic rights."
Due-Gundersen, however, says there are some government economic policies that have caused the situation in the country to deteriorate.
“Sisi’s economic policies have accelerated wealth transfer to the elites and away from lower and even middle classes,” he said.
Since 2020, Due-Gundersen added, "Sisi has increasingly relied on loans, with taxes levied used to finance such loans and a regressive tax structure placing much of the burden on lower and middle classes."
At the same time, he added, Sisi pursues mega-projects such as a new presidential palace, and especially the new administrative capital, which has been under construction since 2015 and is part of the government's “Egypt Vision 2030” project.
Bakr believes that the protests that are being called for November 11 will not take place as the people do not really follow the organizers.
“These are calls on social media by the Muslim Brotherhood members and opposition figures in the diaspora requesting people to demonstrate,” she said.
They have no popularity on the ground, she said, adding that “people are aware of the importance of stability and security in a volatile region.”
Due-Gundersen noted that Sisi claims he is afraid of the repetition of the unrest experienced in Egypt in 2011 and 2013 is repeated, where both times the sitting president was ousted by massive protests.
“It is more likely that Sisi wants to shut down all forms of dissent,” he added.
Due-Gundersen says that diplomatic pressure forced Sisi to allocate a designated space for COP27 protesters, but points out that the space designated for the protests is far away from the conference venue.
He added that Egyptian Major General Khaled Fouda, the governor of South Sinai, says that he has new surveillance equipment, extensive searching capabilities for overland arrivals, and even location tracking via a downloadable app for COP27 attendees.
In case these precautions are not enough, said Due-Gundersen, “Sisi has also pre-empted protests by arresting activists before the event even begins.”
From Sisi’s actions, he said, it is clear that he wants to minimize any protests.
“The arrest of foreign and local activists is likely meant to send a message: just because there is a designated space for protests, doesn’t mean there is no price to pay for using it,” he said.