On 18 July and just two days before the Eid Al-Adha (Greater Bairam) holiday, the Egyptian authorities decided to release six activists after they found that they were not charged in any other cases.
George Ishak, a political activist, wrote that the activists had been arrested at a time the country was facing a war against terrorists.
“But now, with the danger of terrorism ebbing, it is good that the authorities are moving to release activists as long as they are not charged in any other cases,” he said, also recommending that “there should be a kind of dialogue with all the forces in the coming period to reach a new political agenda, including the law on pre-trial detention.”
Mohamed Saad Abdel-Hafiz, managing editor of the Al-Shorouk newspaper and a member of the board of the Press Syndicate, said on 18 July that the syndicate expects that more activists will be released soon.
“We know that all of these cases are currently under review by the state authorities, and so we hope more will be released,” Abdel-Hafiz said, also indicating that “the syndicate has received assurances from the authorities that more will be released as long as they are not involved in any other cases.”
Gamal Zahran, a political science professor, told Al-Ahram Weekly that most of the activists were arrested at a time when Muslim Brotherhood elements living in Turkey were trying to cause trouble and spread instability in Egypt.
“In September 2019, these elements used their TV channels broadcasting from Turkey, Qatar, and London to incite people to protest on the streets, and so it was important that the authorities moved to do everything possible to safeguard the nation against chaos and violence,” Zahran said.
“It is good that the judicial authorities are currently reviewing the conditions of activists in pre-trial detention and are releasing many of them.”
Zahran does not believe that the release of the activists over recent months has come as a result of US pressure. While the new administration led by US President Joe Biden puts a lot of emphasis on human rights issues, “I think the decision whether to release or not mainly depends on the reviews conducted by the Egyptian judicial authorities.”
An AP press agency report on 19 July cited US State Department Spokesman Ned Price as saying that “as a strategic partner, we have raised concerns on the detention of Egyptian civil-society leaders, academics, and journalists with the Egyptian government, and we will continue to do so going forward.”
Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, head of the Reform and Development Party, said in a press interview that the release of activists in pre-trial detention had come after a dialogue with the prosecution services and the security authorities.
“We began this dialogue six months ago, and it led to the release of several activists,” Al-Sadat said. He is the coordinator of the dialogue initiative.
Al-Sadat revealed that the contacts with the prosecution office and the security forces had come through Speaker of the Senate Abdel-Wahab Abdel-Razek. “All the complaints we receive in this respect we send to the speaker of the Senate,” Al-Sadat said, adding that “the Senate speaker has promised that hearings will be held on the role of political parties and civil-society organisations and the media in October and November.”
Al-Sadat said he had invited several public figures and MPs to join the dialogue initiative. He said the release of many activists in recent months had sent a message that the authorities were willing to conduct a dialogue on all kinds of issues, including amending the law on pre-trial detention periods.
The activists released included journalists Gamal Al-Gamal, Moataz Wadnan, Mustafa Al-Asar, and Israa Abdel-Fattah, and two political activists, Abdel-Nasser Ismail and Mahinour Al-Masri.
They were released after months in pre-trial detention over charges that ranged from disseminating false news and the misuse of social media to joining a terrorist group, a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was designated a terrorist group in 2013.
Freelance columnist Al-Gamal was arrested in February 2021 at Cairo International Airport upon his return from Turkey. Journalists Wadnan and Al-Asar were both detained in 2018.
A statement said the security forces had detained the three under an arrest order issued by the prosecution office on charges filed against them.
Israa Abdel-Fattah, an activist and journalist, was one of the founders of the 6 April Movement that played a role in ending the rule of former president Hosni Mubarak in the 2011 uprising.
She was arrested in September 2019 after calls for demonstrations by Muslim Brotherhood leaders living in Turkey.
Abdel-Nasser Ismail, deputy head of the Socialist People’s Alliance, was arrested almost two years ago. Mahinour Al-Masri, a human rights lawyer and activist, was also arrested in September 2019.
The release of the journalists and activists was widely welcomed in political circles.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.