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Egypt: Opposition coalition denounces detention of leader

Egyptian politician Osama al-Ghazali Harb talks during a press conference of executives of the Free Current Movement in Cairo on August 28, 2023.   -  
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A coalition of Egyptian political parties publicly criticized the country's current government Monday (Aug. 28) for persecuting politicians, in a rare act of political dissent.

In a news conference Monday, Emad Gad, a spokesmen for the Free Current coalition, said the practices of President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi's government "represent a severe danger to the political and economic future of our country."

Since coming to power in 2013, el-Sissi’s government has detained thousands of suspected supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist party banned as a terrorist organization, and also secular activists and dissidents.

Rights groups and former prisoners have accused the Egyptian government of deploying brutal tactics to curb dissent, such as forced disappearances, torture and long-term detentions without trial.

The Free Current coalition was formed in June this year, comprised of an array of mostly liberal opposition parties and figures.

One of its leading figures, Hashim Kassem, was detained last week following a public spat with a former government minister. According to The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a leading rights organization, Kassem will be tried next month with several charges including slander, defamation, and assaulting a public servant.

Million dollar private jet story

Party leader Gameela Ismail says Kaseem is unfairly treated.

"The issue, of course, is a political issue, and Hisham Qassem was targeted because he is the head of the Free Current Party, and the party was targeted through him. Hisham Kassem expressed critical opinions regarding economic policies recently, especially the economic policies pertaining to the army."

Kaseem's detention came not long after he posted a tweet, commenting on the arrest of journalist Karim Asaad.

Assad's fact-checking service Matsada2sh wrote in a statement that, "before [Assad's] arrest, the only questions the assailants asked [him] were related to [the] breaking coverage of the Zambia-Egypt plane story".

The southern African country's Drug Enforcement Commission on Tuesday (Aug. 15) announced its officers had seized "a chartered aircraft carrying dangerous goods" at Lusaka airport.

The plane was carrying nearly $5.7 million as well as pistols, ammunition and 127 kilos (280 pounds) of "suspected gold", according to the statement.

The Zambian authorities have arrested 10 suspects, nine of them foreigners, it said.

Lawyers' documents in Lusaka note that at least five Egyptians have been detained.

Independent Egyptian journalists have published over social media documents purportedly from the Zambian probe that name Egyptian suspects in the case, including army and police officers.

Egypt is also in the midst of an economic crisis, beset by price hikes and a depreciating currency. In July inflation was at a record high of 38.2%, according to data released by the state-run Central Agency for Mobilization and Statistics. El-Sissi’s rose to power following a military takeover. 

Economists have been critical of his management of Egypt’s economy.

National dialogue

The North African country is expected to hold presidential elections next year, with the vote widely expected to be a foregone conclusion in favor of the incumbent el-Sissi.

In recent years Egypt has sought to improve its international image. El-Sissi’s government has tried to launch what it called a national dialogue with well-known figures from society, although few known dissenters participated.

Executives from the The Free Current coalition have hinted that was "Hishem Kassem not freed, they could freeze activities and boycott the "national dialogue" or next year's presidential election.

“We need a new president, a new government, and a new parliament,” said Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservative Party and a member of the Free Current Movement who was also at the news conference.

The government has pardoned a number of high-profile detainees over past months. Chief among them is Patrick Zaki, a leading human rights defender, and Ahmed Douma, one of the Egyptian activists behind the 2011 anti-government uprising that was part of the Arab Spring.

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