North Africa, West Asia

Egypt: pardon evokes frustration rather than celebration

Think about the thousands who are held in prison, with or without charge, with or without trials, who are not getting the exposure necessary to make their release a political win for Sisi. 

Wael Eskandar
24 September 2015
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Mohamed Mostafa/Demotix. All rights reserved.

The news of Sisi pardoning a hundred activists leaves me more angry than joyful. It's not that I'm not happy the injustice of false imprisonment has been suspended, but that for some reason the pardon highlights the injustices that persist. The news comes ahead of Sisi's visit to New York for the UN assembly, and follows the deadly attacks by the Egyptian army on Egyptian and Mexican tourists that left 12 dead in the Western desert.

Once again, in the alleviation of the deliberate injustices inflicted upon these citizens, journalists and activists, they are used as a bargaining chip. Even in their release they are used to further Sisi's political agenda of buying people's silence on the irresponsibility with which he deals with Egyptian resources and lives. With people reporting it as 'great news', it feels as though I'm expected to celebrate the release of these activists, maybe because I know most to be innocent, maybe because they're famous and maybe because some of those released include friends.

But I find myself thinking of those who were not released, such as Alaa Abdel Fattah, who remains a prisoner of conscience, or Mahienour El-Massry, or Ahmed Douma, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel. I also think about the multitude of others such as Mahmoud Hussein, a young boy who has been in pre-trial detention for over 600 days for wearing a 'no to torture' T-shirt, or Shawkan, a photojournalist who has been in jail without trial for over two years—exceeding the maximum possible pre-trial detention, in violation of Egypt's own laws. I think about the thousands who are held in prison, with or without charge, with or without trials, who are not getting the exposure necessary to make their release a political win for Sisi. 

The word 'pardon' incenses me. It is a clear indication that a tiny amelioration of injustice, small as it may be, is the exception in a judiciary structurally designed to deliver injustice. Prisoners of conscience remain locked up several Eid feasts in a row, as the boy who cried 'pardon' too many times continues to use them as a bargaining chip.

There are over 40,000 people that have been incarcerated without due process under Sisi, and of late scores of young activists have disappeared, largely through extrajudicial kidnappings performed by Sisi's police force. The number of people released is a drop in the ocean and is meant to alleviate international pressure, particularly when it comes to the AlJazeera journalists, Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and Baher Mohamed.

Had the sentences been just one year, would people be celebrating the release? What we see here is an oppressor who has decided to reduce his torture of a hundred people out of thousands. Are we expected to commend the oppressor or celebrate the little relief afforded to a few? It would be like commending a killer for partly stopping their killing spree, or a torturer for suspending some of his activities on a select few.

Egypt's security apparatus operates with impunity. The law is used as a tool to manipulate justice not to attain it. People's freedoms are a currency used by the regime. Sisi himself admitted to knowing there are innocent people in jail, yet declared he saw it as a necessity. How can we celebrate when he pardons the innocent?

I do not mean to undermine the happiness of those who will get to see their loved ones and friends. I myself feel a sense of relief that I will be seeing some of Egypt's finest very soon. Yet to be truthful, the prevailing sentiment is anger. I'm angry that our justice system terrorises the innocent, angry that we're run by a police state that tortures and imprisons its youth, angry that many killed by the army are automatically declared as terrorists posthumously.

I'm angry because the Sisi regime feels like man who stole all your money, and is now throwing you a bit of change expecting you to be grateful. I'm angry that those pardoned were put in a jail they don't belong to in the first place and that it takes a criminal to pardon the innocent. 

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