Human Rights Watch: Egyptian Court Punishes Activists for Challenging President al-Sisi

On February 6, an Egyptian court sentenced prominent politician Ahmed Tantawy and 21 supporters to a year in prison for alleged offenses associated with his presidential challenge to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi . 

Tantawy, the most prominent challenger to Sisi, withdrew his candidacy in October 2023 after authorities engaged in months-long harassment, including detaining his family and supporters, and obstructing his campaign's efforts to collect endorsements. Human Rights Watch documented numerous unlawful arrests, intimidation, and prosecutions against potential candidates and their supporters, effectively preventing fair competition.

Despite these repressive tactics, Tantawy's campaign garnered significant support. However, authorities arrested supporters who collected informal endorsements, claiming it violated election laws. This charge, based on a law restricting unauthorized printing of ballots, blatantly tramples on freedom of expression and association.

"The charges against Tantawy and his supporters are nothing more than retaliation for their peaceful attempt to challenge Sisi's rule," said Amr Magdi, senior Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "By barring Tantawy from future elections, the authorities send a chilling message that no real challenge will be tolerated."

Tantawy and his supporters can appeal, but face continued detention until paying bail. This case exemplifies the Egyptian government's use of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) to silence dissent. The SSSP has imprisoned and tortured countless dissidents, denying them basic rights and due process.

"Egyptian authorities must immediately release Tantawy and his supporters," urged Magdi. "This persecution exposes the sham election and underscores the urgent need for genuine political participation in Egypt."