At least 35 registered volunteer campaign staff of Egypt’s presidential hopeful Ahmed Tantawi have been detained by the National Security Agency (NSA) in a wave of arrests that began three weeks ago, according to a report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) on Friday.
In what rights groups say is a familiar pattern for any even perceived political opponent of incumbent President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the EIPR documented Tantawi’s volunteers being arrested from their homes, workplaces or summoned to the nearest NSA branch to be detained.
After this, the arrested volunteers were detained in an undisclosed location and then sent to the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) where they were charged with “joining a subversive group”, “spreading false news” and “terrorism”.
Though the arrests began three weeks ago, most of those detained were summoned to NSA headquarters across 13 different governorates on the night of September 12. The EIPR claim that a source in Tantawi’s campaign confirmed that some of those detained are still missing, while 29 of the 35 arrested were presented before the SSSP on September 14. All the detained volunteers were subsequently transferred to the Tenth of Ramadan Prison pending trial.
Tantawi, who sits in Egypt’s House of Representatives for the originally pro-Sisi Karama Party, declared his intention to run for the presidency earlier this year in May. In response to this, 15 of his supporters and two of his uncles were detained by the NSA in a similar manner to the current wave of arrests.
‘Illegal and immoral actions’ by security forces
In 2019, Tantawi uploaded a video to YouTube calling for Sisi to leave office in 2022 and stand down before the next election, warning that if the Egyptian dictator did not the country would be in “imminent danger” and unable to carry out the required social, political and economic reforms.
Though the EIPR notes that the SSSP did not present specific evidence against the arrested volunteers regarding the Tantawi campaign, they did question them about the registration of their data on an electronic volunteer form set up by his campaign team. Egypt under Sisi is one of the leading jailers of political prisoners in the world, with an estimated 60,000 locked up since 2013.
Tantawi himself took to social media to denounce what he believes is the flagrant targeting of his campaign by the security forces.
“In recent days the pace and severity of the illegal and immoral actions undertaken by the security forces against my campaign have intensified,” he wrote on twitter.
“[T]hey arrested, detained and disappeared many of my supporters,” he concluded.
Egypt’s presidential elections are scheduled to take place in 2024, with Sisi widely expected to announce his intention for re-election soon. After campaigns of harassment against opponents who might garner public support, Sisi won the 2018 election against one of his own self-declared supporters Moussa Mustafa Moussa with 97% of the vote.
Most election monitors agree that the vote was not democratic.