Skip to main content

Egypt extends crackdown on Gaza activism with student arrests

2 min

Egypt has detained several students who were trying to promote pro-Palestinian boycotts and solidarity campaigns, the latest sign that it does not want to leave space for activism over the war in Gaza despite growing official criticism of Israel.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the 10th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, May 30, 2024. Reuters/Tingshu Wang/Pool

Egypt has detained several students who were trying to promote pro-Palestinian boycotts and solidarity campaigns, the latest sign that it does not want to leave space for activism over the war in Gaza despite growing official criticism of Israel.

The students are among dozens of people held in connection with protests against Israel's military campaign, some of them detained in October when state-sanctioned rallies spilled over to unauthorised sites including Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Analysts say Egyptian authorities fear that demonstrations over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could fuel domestic political dissent, which has been suppressed in a broad crackdown lasting more than a decade.

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent Cairo-based group, at least 125 people have been arrested since the Gaza war began in October, 95 of whom are still being held in pre-trial detention on charges including membership of a banned group or spreading false news.

Three students were arrested earlier this month over their attempt to create a group called Students for Palestine, according to Nabeh El Ganadi, a human rights lawyer who represents two of the students. They include Ziad Bassiouny, a 22-year-old student at an arts institute in Giza.

About 40 members of the security forces were deployed to arrest Bassiouny at his apartment in the early hours of May 9, his mother Fayza Hendawy told Reuters.

"They pointed their rifles at us so that none of us could move," she said, describing the overnight raid.

The students "did not call for protests or anything like that", she said. "It's not a political group, they're just students calling on Egyptian students to stand with Palestine and show their support publicly like the rest of the universities globally."

Egypt's state information service did not respond to a Reuters request for comment, and an interior ministry official could not immediately be reached.

Egyptian officials have publicly stated their support for Palestinian rights in the context of the war, and have strongly criticised Israel's military campaign. "What is astonishing is that this is their official position," Hendawy said.

CRACKDOWN ON DISSENT AFTER MASS UNREST

Rights groups say tens of thousands of people from across Egypt's political spectrum have been arrested for dissent since 2013 when then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the ouster of President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood, freely elected the year before after protracted "Arab Spring" unrest.

Hamas, Gaza's ruling Palestinian Islamist group, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood and Egypt helped Israel impose a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

Supporters of Sisi, who has been president since 2014, say the security crackdown has been needed to stabilise Egypt, and that the judiciary is independent. Officials say they have taken steps to protect rights and expand political participation, though critics say the measures are largely cosmetic.

Public demonstrations are generally outlawed.

Nineteen activists were detained in late April as they held a rally outside a United Nations office in Cairo to show solidarity with women in Gaza and Sudan, before being released on bail, according to EIPR. Earlier in the month, security forces detained people at a protest in the centre of the capital where slogans criticising Sisi were chanted.

Ganadi, the human rights lawyer, said the arrests fitted a pattern of authorities trying to block organised movements including professional and student associations.

"No one is doing anything, but they might, so since they might do something and this is something on the table, why shouldn't we arrest them or hold them accountable?" he said.

By Farah Saafan

Related

United Nations

UN chief says no alternative to UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA

United Nations chief Antonio Guterres declared on Friday that there is no alternative to the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA and 118 countries backed the relief organization as indispensable, amid stepped up efforts by Israel to dismantle it.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Mena banner 4

To make this website run properly and to improve your experience, we use cookies. For more detailed information, please check our Cookie Policy.

  • Necessary cookies enable core functionality. The website cannot function properly without these cookies, and can only be disabled by changing your browser preferences.