Freedom is a feeling more and more people continue to lose to censorship, injustices and national oppression. It is a feeling and a state Egyptians went down on January 25th to fight for and gain for the first time in a long time. 2011 saw the birth of an unprecedented hope. Now it’s 2016, the hope has faded away, and the distance between Egyptian citizens and their freedoms has greatened.
The past two years have brought forth not only a heightened lack of expressional freedoms, but violence and injustices especially towards activists and NGOs. Amongst the well known examples is Socialist Popular Alliance leading member and activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s murder, after peacefully protesting with flowers in January 2015.
“It has been witnessed before such as in the case of 29 year-old Egyptian-American Aya Hegazy who was arrested in 2014 for taking in and improving the lives of street children.”
Earlier this year, Egyptian activist and director of the Nazra for Feminist Studies NGO Mozn Hassan was banned from flying to a women’s rights conference in Beirut after the NGO Foreign Funding Case was revived. The case accuses various NGOs of illegally receiving funds and help from foreign institutions and governments. The case was initially closed in 2011, then reopened earlier this year in March. This very target on NGOs is not a new phenomenon but one that is on an increase. It has been witnessed before such as in the case of 29 year-old Egyptian-American Aya Hegazy who was arrested in 2014 for taking in and improving the lives of street children. She had founded Belady Foundation and incorporated the teachings of arts and culture to help improve the lives of street children. Instead of being supported, she was locked away and accused of human trafficking and abduction amongst other accusations.
“This makes Egypt the country with the most travel ban cases.”
The most recent portrayal of injustice and freedom imprisonment was earlier this week, when activist and lawyer Azza Soliman was barred from traveling to Jordan on Saturday. Azza, the co-founder and director of the Centre for Egyptian Women’s Legal NGO, was traveling to Jordan to attend a human rights and freedom conference. How ironic? In 2015 she was one of the 17 witnesses in Shaimaa’s death case, who were eventually charged with illegally protesting and given their own cases. After an appeal, her innocence was upheld. According to Daily News Egypt, no notice of the ban is ever given until the person arrives at the airport.
Amongst the many banned from travelling in 2016 are Ahmed Ragheb, Malek Adly, Mohamed Lotfy, Nasser Amin, Hoda Abdel Wahab and Esraa Abdel Fattah. Others such as Gamal Eid, who was barred from traveling in February, are currently facing charges. On Front Line Defender’s “Travel Ban Cases” website page – an Irish-based human rights organization that protects human rights defendants at risk – Egyptians hold 13 of the 44 cases. This makes Egypt the country with the most travel ban cases, followed by Bahrain at 7 cases.
“Aren’t these organizations taking on the roles of the nation without asking for money, national support, or even appreciation?” – Heba Elsewedy
Where does this leave us? It leaves us questioning the extent to which the government will go to suppress the freedoms of its people. This sad reality has left members of our society – constantly working on improving the lives of others – in a state of confusion and worry. Heba Elsewedy, the founder of Ahl Masr – a sustainable foundation that aims to deal with burn victims, currently working on building the biggest burn hospital in the world – shared her concerns on her Facebook Page. “My question is, are parliament members forgetting that if it weren’t for these organizations and people- small and big alike – there wouldn’t have been education, therapy, food, water, shelter, safety amongst other things provided in the past few years by their celebrated roles? Aren’t these organizations taking on the roles of the nation without asking for money, national support, or even appreciation?” Heba accurately and strongly questions.
Does our country not realize that these very people they are restlessly targeting are amongst the few working on making our country a better place? Why are they being targeted and what is the threat they pose? This country will never move forward as long as the government continues to fear its people instead of work with them.