Latest World News

Egypt: Al-Sisi’s New Red Line


Hundreds of political prisoners have been released in Egypt since April. A deceptive maneuver, say human rights activists, because many more citizens have been arrested since then. This could have something to do with the high inflation in the country.

By Alexander Stenzel, ARD Studio Cairo

The 29-year-old lawyer Nabih El-Ganadi from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights is on constant duty. He currently appears in court every day, representing an average of ten defendants, he explains. They are accused of having complained on Facebook or TikTok, for example, that prices had exploded and that they were therefore having problems feeding their families. This often leads to charges in court with the accusation: spreading false news and membership in a terrorist organization.

“A new red line that’s hard to beat”

The Egyptian government apparently fears that the expressions of dissatisfaction by many individuals could trigger mass protests in the population, similar to 2011, when people took to the streets against President Hosni Mubarak.

From the lawyer’s point of view, the government is now drawing a new red line that can hardly be surpassed: “You have to imagine it. People can hardly afford meat anymore and are not even allowed to complain about it on social networks.”

Economic hardship – a powder keg

In fact, prices in Egypt have doubled for many products in the past two years. A year ago, a kilo of beef cost almost half that. Inflation, which has been very high for years, is driving prices up. In December last year alone, it was 21.3 percent – the highest value since 2017. In addition, the Egyptian pound has lost value dramatically in the past two years.

In 2021, Egyptians had to pay 19 pounds for one euro – now it is 32 pounds. That means imports are now around 60 percent more expensive. No wonder dissatisfaction is growing among the population.

Many people in the country no longer know how to make ends meet. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is under massive criticism because he is said to have invested considerable foreign exchange and loans in mega-projects, financed a new administrative capital and the expansion of the Suez Canal without investing in the long term and in urgently needed economic projects.

Why were around 800 political prisoners pardoned?

According to human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, almost 800 political prisoners have been pardoned since April 2022. However, this is mainly due to pressure from Western governments, above all from the USA. The US government has on several occasions called on the Egyptian government to respect human rights and freedom of expression.

To back this demand, the US government withheld $130 million of the $1.3 billion in annual military aid. The Egyptian government apparently reacted to this and US Secretary of State Blinken welcomed in November the pardon of a “significant number of political prisoners”. The hosting of the UN world climate conference COP27 also drew attention to the situation in the country at the time.


The lawyer El-Ganadi from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights speaks of a deceptive maneuver in the case of the releases. On the one hand, only those were pardoned who the “state security” could assume that they would not criticize the government after their release.

On the other hand, from April 2022 to today, 2,500 people have been locked away in prisons again. Amnesty International also documented that between April and November 2022, 1,540 people were arrested on political grounds – far more people than were released. Even if there were internationally recognized cases like that of the social democrat and human rights lawyer El-Elaimi.

Human rights commissioners apparently discharged

The German government is apparently also making sure that the number of political prisoners in Egypt’s prisons is increasing rather than decreasing. The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights, Luise Amtsberg, recently planned a trip to Egypt. According to the Federal Foreign Office, “in order to keep in touch on human rights issues”.

But the journey did not take place. According to the German press agency, government circles then said that entry had been “stopped through diplomatic channels”. The Foreign Office said at the request of the ARD, the Human Rights Commissioner regrets that the visit did not take place. The tense human rights situation has not improved in the past few months, but has “even worsened” in certain areas. Human rights organizations estimate that there are more than 65,000 political prisoners in Egypt.