Our close ally, Egypt, is again proving the worst expectations of its authoritarian rule. Singer Sherine Abdel-Wahabdemon commented to an audience in Bahrain that “Here I can say whatever I want. In Egypt, anyone who talks gets imprisoned.” Egypt could object and show that it remains a nation committed to free speech. Instead, it immediately proved her correct by banning her from ever performing in her native country. Egypt is obviously not disturbed by the world knowing that it is opposed to basic civil liberties. It was more concerned that its arbitrary arrests and punishments had not silenced this star and it was intent on showing other Egyptians what would happen if they even acknowledge their lack of free speech. What is truly depressing is that the government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi had the Egypt’s Musicians Union silence a fellow artist, who in turn has begged for forgiveness for acknowledging that free speech no longer exists in Egypt.
The singer has a habit of stating the obvious. She was sentenced to six months in prison last year after joking about the Nile being polluted. The Nile is polluted but apparently you are not to acknowledge the existence of pollution any more than you can the absence of free speech. Her sentence was suspended upon appeal and an apology.
Egypt has seen a dramatic rollback on civil liberties under al-Sissi with increasing pettiness and arbitrariness. A teenager was jailed for cartoons of Muhammad and a leading businessman was attacked for a cartoon of Micky Mouse with a beard. Then there was the three-year sentence given Amr Nohan, a 22-year-old law graduate for posting a Facebook image of el-Sisi with Mickey Mouse-style cartoon ears. A leading cartoonist Islam Gawish, 26, was arrested in Egypt by the hyper sensitive al-Sisi government. It even banned yellow vests in fear that Egyptians might be inspired by the Paris protests.
Sherine (as she is widely known) was shown making the obvious statement on a widely circulated video. That led to a complaint filed by a notorious lawyer named Samir Sabry. Sabry has used the law to fight against civil liberties and freedoms. He accused Sherine of “insulting Egypt and inviting suspicious rights groups to interfere in Egypt’s affairs.” Sabry is an international disgrace to the legal profession.
The complaint however had its intended impact. Sherine apologized about everyone being charged in order to avoid another such charge . She begged forgiveness, declaring “I am very tired. I made a mistake. I am sorry. I appeal the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt, who is our father. I feel that I was persecuted. I did nothing. I love Egypt.”
So there you have modern Egypt. Artists who prevent other artists from performing and lawyers who fight against basic rights. It is the Orwellian world of Al-Sissi, our trusted ally.