On 29 July, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi granted presidential pardons to seven detainees — journalist Hisham Fouad, researcher Ahmed Samir, actor Tarek Al-Nahri, and political activists Qassem Ashraf Qassem, Abdel-Raouf Khattab, Tarek Al-Mahdi and Khaled Abdel-Moneim Saber — who had received final jail sentences.
Press Syndicate head Diaa Rashwan said on 30 July that more than 700 prisoners had been pardoned since Al-Sisi called for a national dialogue in April to draw up a new political roadmap.
“The pardons mean the dialogue will take place in a more conducive atmosphere and illustrate the state is sincere about achieving greater political openness,” he said.
Hisham Fouad was sentenced to four years in prison on charges of spreading false news on social media in a case known as the Hope Cell Plot.
“Following the release of Fouad, 14 journalists are serving jail sentences. Seven are members of the Press Syndicate and seven were working as freelancers,” said Rashwan.
MP Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said in a TV interview on 29 April that the pardon decree will not be the last.
“I expect that another batch of prisoners with final jail sentences will be released very soon. President Al-Sisi’s decision to invoke his constitutional powers demonstrates that the political leadership is committed to giving young activists implicated in publication offences or violations of the protest law a second chance.”
According to Abdel-Aziz, the Presidential Pardon Committee will consider the cases of detainees who have received final jail sentences or are in custody pending trial as long as they are not implicated in terrorism or other forms of violence.
The pardons, he added, show that “Egypt is a strong and stable country that has defeated the forces of terrorism and is now ready to create a more politically inclusive climate.”
Tarek Al-Khouli, MP and a member of the Presidential Pardon Committee, said on 30 June that by pardoning political prisoners, President Al-Sisi wants to create a positive atmosphere before the national dialogue starts.
“There is no doubt that the presidential pardons build confidence between opposition forces and activists on one hand, and the ruling regime on the other,” says Senator Farid Zahran, chairman of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party.
“The pardon of Fouad has sparked hopes that Ziad Al-Oleimi, a lawyer and one of the founders of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party, will be also released.”
Al-Oleimi was also a member of the Hope Cell Plot and is currently serving a three-year sentence.
The Arab Network for Digital Media and Human Rights (ANDMHR) welcomed the latest pardons.
“The succession of presidential pardons reflects the seriousness with which political reform and the implementation of the national human rights strategy is being taken,” it said.
ANDMHR called for more presidential pardons and noted that the Presidential Pardon Committee had established clear criteria for dealing with such cases, including the exclusion from consideration for pardon of any detainee proven to have incited violence or violated the right to life.
Gamila Ismail, recently elected head of the Dostour Party, said that while she welcomed the invitation to participate in the national dialogue, “in order for the dialogue to succeed we would recommend all political activists be pardoned and released”.
Tayseer Matar, spokesperson of the 42-member Alliance of Egyptian Political Parties and a member of the Senate, said “President Al-Sisi’s pardon on 29 July continues the political leadership’s efforts to release more prisoners who do not have blood on their hands.”
“Such efforts have created a favourable climate for the national dialogue proposed by President Al-Sisi last April and are not just a tactic as some who seek to politicise the dialogue and impose pre-conditions before sitting down on the table claim,” said Mattar.
Mattar also argued that President Al-Sisi’s pardon underlines the political leadership’s commitment to implementing the Human Rights Strategy released last year.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.