During his speech to community representatives and parliamentary chambers’ chairpersons, on 13 April 2016, addressing the risk of acquiring information from social media, Sisi said:”I could go online with two battalions to make it a closed circle from which media professionals can obtain news and information.”(1)
Also, in another meeting, he said:”In 2010, when I was the director of Egyptian Military Intelligence, I gave a lecture in which I asserted that the development in the means of communication will pose a serious threat to Egypt and the Arab region. The lecture was recorded, and it was delivered to a group of army members and Egyptians.” (2)
These words by the President reflect how the Egyptian political management views social media and its role in shaping political life.
Out of the same vision, a lawyer filed lawsuit No. 79798 of the judicial year 68 demanding a ban on social networking websites; alleging that foreign intelligence services, before January Revolution until now, have been using social media to ignite demonstrations, and incite acts of violence, murder, and arson of public and private property inside Egypt, adding that such websites constitute a platform for rumors.
At the level of legislation, the Egyptian Parliament has issued the “Law Regulating the Press, Media, and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR)”, whose provisions apply to every personal website, blog or electronic account with 5,000 or more followers or subscribers.(3)
The answer doesn’t need too much effort. Given the almost complete control the state, its apparatus and “the affiliate or state-backed companies” have over media in Egypt; there is no longer any room for expressing opinions or criticism except through social networking websites, most notably Facebook.
Police and judicial prosecutions of opinion-makers who use Facebook have successively taken place as a result. We, hereby, give examples of a number of cases that have been considered during 2018, including (but not limited to) one case in 2019.
Giving examples of the violations endured by “Facebook” activists, we emphasize that we are not dealing with one victim or even a number of victims of violations that result from an administrative error or mistake which can be remedied. Rather, we are addressing the manifold open cases that devour a new group of young people every hour and destroy their future on the pretext of “fighting rumors that disrupt the country’s stability!”, although most of such cases are nothing more than a mere expression of an opinion or criticism, under no violation of the law.
Examples of “Facebook” cases:
1- Case No. 1 of 2018 Emergency State Security Misdemeanor, known in the media as “Please don’t, Abdo”
The Supreme State Security Prosecution referred Ahmed Ali Abdel-Aziz and others to criminal trial on charges of joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law and promoting the group’s objectives through publishing on their personal pages and other pages.
The Prosecution based its accusations on the National Security Agency investigations.
Ahmed Ali Abdel-Aziz was arrested by the security forces at dawn on 22 November 2017, before he was referred to the State Security Prosecution 24 hours later.
The case was being considered by the Emergency State Security Giza Criminal Court’s circuit 14, until the court, on 31 January, sentenced Ahmed Ali Abdel-Aziz to 5 years in prison.
2- Case No. 482 of 2018 State Security
Case 482/ 2018 involves 6 defendants, including pharmacist Gamal Abdel-Fattah Mohamed Abdel-Dayem, a prominent leftist public figure and former member of the Kefaya movement.
The security forces arrested Abdel Fattah, 72, after storming his house at Hadaeq Al-Ahram district at dawn on Wednesday, February 28, and seizing his computer. Gamal had been missing for several days, during which his family and lawyers were unable to communicate with him or find out his whereabouts, until he appeared before the State Security Prosecution on the 6th of March, without the presence of his lawyers. The Prosecution charged him with establishing a terrorist group and promoting its ideas using the social networking website “Facebook”.
Gamal Abdel-Fattah had been held in remand detention until the 25th of June 2018, when Cairo Criminal Court ordered his release with precautionary measures that are pretty close to a form of penalty.
3- Case No. 621 of 2018 Supreme State Security
The case was unveiled on 16 April 2018, when “Sherif El-Roubi”, former spokesman of the April 6 Youth Movement, and “Mohamed Oxygen” were accused of “spreading false news and joining a group that is established contrary to the provisions of the law” pending case No. 621 of 2018 Supreme State Security, before the case had expanded to include many of Facebook activists.
The charges pressed against them ranged from joining a banned group (not disclosed by the Prosecution) and spreading false news through Facebook or any other social networks.
- Mohamed Khaled Mohamed Yassin
On 28 March 2018, the security forces arrested student Mohamed Khaled, after TV anchor Ahmed Mosa broadcasted a video that the defendant had published earlier on his “Facebook” page, appearing to show a polling station during Egypt’s presidential election. Following his arrest, Mohamed was taken to an unknown destination. Then, on 3 May 2018, he appeared before the State Security Prosecution for investigation, and was charged with joining a terrorist group, publishing and disseminating false news and statements, and misuse of social media.
Political activist Dr. Shady al-Ghazali Harb was then added to Case No. 621/2018 on 15 May 2018, followed by dentist Walid Shawqi, who was arrested on Sunday, 14 October, along with lawyer Sayed al-Banna who was arrested on the same day.
Later on 18 October, Ayman Abdul Moati, manager of the Advertising and Distribution department at the “Al-Maraya” publishing, was arrested from his workplace in Downtown Cairo. He was then interrogated on 20 October, and is still being held in detention until now.
4- Amal Fathy
On 11 May 2018, the security forces arrested Amal Fathi, along with her husband Mohamed Lotfy and her three-year-old son (were released later). Then she was referred to the Maadi Prosecution which accused her of “posting a video on the social networking website “Facebook”, as one of media outlets, to incite the overthrow of the regime and publish false rumors, and misusing one of social media websites.” Her arrest was against the backdrop of a video in which Amal criticized poor service at the state-owned bank “Bank Misr” and the sexual harassment she experienced there by security staff. The Prosecution decided to hold Amal in detention for 15 days pending investigations into case No. 1997 of 2018 Maadi Misdemeanors, and on 29 September, she was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 10,000 EGP, with a bail of 20,000 EGP to suspend the sentence. On 30 December 2018, the Maadi Misdemeanor Court of Appeals rejected Amal Fathy’s appeal against the sentence.
However, while the case was being considered on 13 May 2018, Fathy’s lawyers were staggered by her presence in the State Security Prosecution, which ruled to add her to Case 621/2018 State Security.
5- The trial of unionist Sayeda Fayed
In the evening of 22 October 2018, the security forces broke into the house of a female union activist and Nursing Syndicate’s member Sayeda al-Sayed Mohamed Fayed, before arresting her, searching the house and confiscating her mobile phone and computer. The raid came on the background of the National Security’s investigations concerning a number of posts the unionist shared on her Facebook page. Sayeda then appeared before the Prosecution over case no. 29377 of 2018 Helwan Misdemeanors, and on 4 November, the prosecution referred her to court under the accusation of “publishing false news.”
Her trial proceedings were carried out while Sayeda Fayed was held on remand until she was acquitted by the Helwan Misdemeanor Court on the 10th of November 2018.
6- The trial of unionist Wagdi Al-Sayed Ali
On Monday, 15 October 2018, the security forces arrested trade union activist in the nursing sector “Wagdi Al-Sayed Ali”, and then on 16 October, he appeared before the Deputy District Attorney of Faisal region in Suez governorate, where he wasn’t able to communicate with his family or even to have a lawyer. The Prosecution ordered his detention for 15 days pending investigations into case No. 5053 of 2018 Faisal Administrative on a charge of “spreading false news and misuse of social networking websites”. In spite of his release order on bail of 5,000 EGP that was issued by a criminal court on the 9th of December 2018, Wagdi Al-Sayed had remained in detention under the National Security’s command, until he was actually released on the 18th of December 2018.
7- The trial of tax authority employee Mohamed Nassif Mohamed Ghoneim
The security forces arrested Mohamed Nassif Mohamed Ghoneim, employee in the Egyptian Tax Authority (ETA), on 27 June 2018, after the head of (ETA) and the head of the Central Administration of the Authority Chairman’s Office had filed a complaint with the Internet Surveillance against Nassif; for posting comments on his Facebook page that they deemed “offensive to the ruling regime, President Abdel Fattah Sisi and the Tax Authority’s leaders”. Mohamed Nassif appeared before the Prosecution pending case No. 1657 of 2018 Al-Marg Administrative.
8- The trial of Ezz El-Din Saad Abdul Hamid al-Najjar
Security forces arrested Ezz El-Din Saad Abdul Hamid al-Najjar, aka Ezz El-Din El-Gammal, from his house in Nasr City on the 26th of June, after the chief detective of Nasr City Police Station prepared a record of investigations reporting that al-Najjar “had used social media to incite against state institutions and incite citizens to protest”. As a result, Al-Najjar was referred to the Public Prosecution for investigations into Case No. 34760 of 2018 Nasr City Misdemeanor on charges of publishing false news and statements. He was then released and the case was referred to Nasr City Misdemeanor Court, which decided on the 15th of October 2018 to sentence him to two years in prison with force and labor and fine him 200 EGP after being accused of possessing publications that contain false news.
9- The trial of writer Mahmoud Mohamed Imam
He was arrested at night from his home on April 11; against the backdrop of posting some comments on the social networking website “Facebook”, after the National Security Agency conducted investigations claiming that the writer “had used the social networking website (Facebook) to incite against the state, incite citizens to protest, publish comments and phrases that are offensive to the President of the Republic and to disseminate false news and statements on the country’s internal situation”. As a result, Mahmoud Imam was questioned by al-Khoses Prosecution, north of Qalyubiya governorate, on charges of “incitement to the overthrow of the regime and misusing one of communications means” pending case No. 1959 of 2018 Al-Khoses Administrative.
10- ‘The Yellow Vests’ Case
On Monday afternoon, 10 December 2018, the security forces arrested human rights lawyer and member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party “Mohamed Ramadan”. He had been detained at the National Security headquarters before he appeared before Al-Montazah Prosecution the next day on charges of “joining a terrorist group and promoting its ideas, spreading false news, possessing pamphlets and yellow vests to call for protests against the government similar to the ‘Yellow Vest’ protests in France, and using social media to promote terrorist group’s objectives”. Ramadan is being held on remand pending case No. 16576 of 2018 Al-Montazah Administrative, publicly known as “The Yellow Vests”, for posting a photo of himself wearing a yellow vest on the social networking website “Facebook”.
11- Case No. 7617 of 2018 Al-Obour Administrative
On 15 October 2018, the security forces arrested activist Karim Ahmed Youssef, also known as Karim Batchan, after publishing a video of a quarrel between police officers and a number of citizens in al-Asmarat neighborhood. He was then taken to Al-Obour police station before he was referred to the Public Prosecutor’s Office for investigation on charges of “joining a group established contrary to the provisions of the law (April 6 Movement) and inciting to protest”. Thereafter, he was ordered to be held in detention pending case No. 7617 of 2018 Al-Obour Administrative.
Karim was released on 4 November 2018 under the guarantee of his place of residence.
12- The arrest of Conservative Party member Mahmoud Khamis
A security force affiliating with Al-Basateen Police Station (South Cairo) broke into the house of Mahmoud Khamis, a member of the supreme body of the Conservatives Party (Al-Mohafzeen) loyal to President Abdel Fattah Sisi, on Wednesday evening, the 2nd of January. Khamis was arrested after seizing his mobile phone and computer, and without showing him the arrest warrant of the Public Prosecution. His arrest was against the backdrop posting some comments on the social networking website “Facebook” in which he expressed his views voicing his rejection of tyranny and calling for the society’s need for justice and fairness. Khamis was released, however, after the party intervened in the case. (4)
13- Writer Fatima Naoot threatened to have her “Facebook” page closed
In the first application of the new Law Regulating Press, Media, and the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR); Law No. 180 of 2018 whose provisions apply to social media pages with 5,000 or more followers, the Complaints Committee of SCMR warned writer Fatima Naoot, on 8 January, that her personal account “Facebook” would be shut down for allegedly “defaming Youm7 News institution and its employees.”
The warning came against the backdrop of Fatima’s response to a crackdown campaign by “Youm7” news website because of an article she published in “Al-Masry Al-Youm” newspaper.
14- Case No. 1739 of 2018 State Security
Case 1739/2018 was made public after Khaled Mohamed Sweida, member of the Constitution Party in al-Mahalla al-Kubra city, was arrested from his house on the evening of 13 December 2018. He had been held for 12 days at the National Security Agency headquarters before he was questioned by the State Security Prosecution on the 24th of December. The prosecution pressed against Sweida charges of “joining a terrorist group established contrary to the provisions of the law and using social networking websites to disseminate false news”, and ruled to hold him in detention for 15 days pending probe.
Among those involved in the case are:
- Gamal Abdel-Fattah, Mohab al-Ebrashi, Khaled Mahmoud, Mostafa Faqir and Khaled Bassiouni
In the late night hours of 27 January 2019, the security forces arrested five activists: Gamal Abdel-Fattah, Mohab al-Ebrashi, Khaled Mahmoud Abdel-Gelil, Mostafa Faqir and Khaled Mohamed Bassiouni. Both Faqir and Bassiouni appeared before the State Security Prosecution on 30 January 2019, while the three others (Gamal Abdel-Fattah, Khaled Mahmoud Abdel-Gelil and Mohab al-Ebrashi) appeared before the prosecution the next day, on 31 January. The five activists were ordered to be detained for 15 days pending investigations. Accusations of “misusing social networking websites, gathering and joining a terrorist group” are pressed by the Prosecution against each of Khaled Mahmoud Abdel-Gelil, Mohab al-Ebrashi, Mostafa Faqir, and Khaled Bassiouni.
Gamal Abdel-Fattah, on the other hand, is facing charges of “broadcasting false news and statements, using Internet personal accounts with the aim of committing a crime that is punishable by law and disturbing public order and security, and joining a terrorist group.”
15- Case No. 277 of 2019 State Security, aka “Allahoma Thawra” (O God a revolution please)
The case was made public after security forces arrested a number of politicians and social media activists, including political activist Yehia Hussein Abdel Hady, founder and former spokesman of the Civil Democratic Movement (CDM), at dawn on Tuesday, 29 January 2019, without declaring the reasons for the arrest.
In an official statement released on 29 January 2019, the Interior Ministry announced the arrest of “54 people” whom it claimed to be “affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood elements”, allegedly for forming an entity dubbed “Allahoma Thawra” (O God a revolution please). (5)
On 30 January, the founding member of the Civil Democratic Movement, Yehia Hussein Abdel Hady, appeared before the State Security Prosecution, along with 24 other defendants (on the same day), who were all ordered by the prosecution to be held in detention for 15 days pending probe.
The Prosecution pressed against Yehia Hussein Abdel Hady and the rest of the defendants charges of “joining a group that is established contrary to the provisions of the law and that prevents state institutions from performing their duties, and misusing one of social networking websites for promoting the group’s ideology.”
- Political decision-makers in Egypt are dominated by the idea of “conspiracy”, and as a result of the state officials’ antagonism towards social media and the role it played in the January 25 Revolution, social networking websites have become in the officials’ crosshairs.
- The media strategy of political authorities in Egypt is based on the nationalization of the various newspapers and media outlets and the blocking of websites that publish different views.
- The government’s fear of public opinion and how it is influenced by social media prompts it to try to control the social networking websites, especially “Facebook”.
- The government intentionally confuses freedom of opinion and expression with terrorism and incitement to violence; in order to get rid of political opposition and social media activists and to impose restrictions on the publishing freedom, whether in newspapers or news and social networking websites.
- The government endeavors to draw up a certain image in the public opinion’s minds towards freedom of opinion and expression; considering it a disgraceful or outrageous act that is linked to Western culture, or welfare that doesn’t suit a poor country like Egypt since it is associated with the high economic potential in the west, or a kind of chaos that undermines the country’s security and stability.
(1)- A report entitled “Facebook is in the crosshairs of Sisi and Parliament members”. Published in “Al-Masry Al-Youm” newspaper on 17 April, 2016. Last visit: 13 January 2019
(2)- A report entitled “In the social media session, Sisi: We’ve internalized its risks after 7 years”. Published in “Al-Watan” news website on 5 November 2018. Last visit: 13 January 2019.
(3)- The official website of the Supreme Council for Media Regulation (SCMR). Last visit: 22 January 2019
(4)- The official website of the Conservatives Party (Al-Mohafzeen). Last visit: 22 January 2019
(5) The Interior Ministry’s statement on “Allahoma Thawra” (O God a revolution please) case, published on the ministry’s official page on the 29th of January 2019. Last visit: 4 February 2019