CAIRO—Egyptian authorities Tuesday arrested the country’s former chief anticorruption officer, according to his lawyer, deepening a clampdown on opponents of President
Abdel Fattah Al Sisi
before a presidential election in March.
The detention of former chief auditor Hisham Geneina is the latest in a series of arrests of opposition figures and journalists in the weeks leading up to the election in which the incumbent now faces only a token opponent.
Egypt’s military threatened to take legal action against Mr. Geneina on Monday, accusing him of “aiming to raise doubts about the state and its institutions.” The accusation came after the former official threatened to release evidence of violations committed by the security forces following Egypt’s 2011 uprising that deposed former President Hosni Mubarak.
Mr. Geneina’s attorney, Ali Taha, said Tuesday evening that the former auditor had been referred to prosecutors. Mr. Taha declined to respond to the military’s accusations since it was not yet clear what if any legal charges Mr. Geneina would face.
Spokesmen for Mr. Sisi and Egypt’s Interior Ministry declined to comment on Mr. Geneina’s arrest when reached by phone Tuesday.
Mr. Geneina became an icon of Egypt’s political opposition after he was removed from his post in 2016 in response to an investigation that accused government officials of graft.
A former police officer and judge, Mr. Geneina re-emerged recently as a critic of the government after he signed on to the abortive presidential campaign of Lt. Gen. Sami Anan, the former chief of staff of Egypt’s military, who was arrested days after announcing his candidacy in January.
Mr. Geneina claimed in an interview published Sunday with the Huffington Post’s Arabic language site that Mr. Anan had been in possession of alleged incriminating recordings, although he didn’t say what the specific content of the recordings was.
Every credible opponent to Mr. Sisi has been detained or withdrawn from the coming presidential race citing an unfair political climate. Mr. Geneina was also one of a group of prominent opposition figures who called for a boycott of the election.
His arrest comes less than 24 hours after a visit to Cairo by U.S. Secretary of State
who declined to criticize the crackdown by Mr. Sisi’s government. “We have always advocated for free and fair elections, transparent elections, not just for Egypt but in any country,” Mr. Tillerson said during a press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister
Mr. Tillerson’s stance was criticized by some analysts in the region.
“It reinforces the impression that this administration has little if any concern over the state of democracy in Egypt,” said Timothy Kaldas, a Cairo-based analyst with the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.
“The U.S. and much of the international community appear to have settled into the idea that Sisi will continue to rule Egypt and he will continue to do so undemocratically,” he added.
Mr. Geneina’s arrest also follows the disappearance in Cairo of two journalists and the arrest of an opposition party leader earlier this month.
Journalists Hassan al-Banna and Mostafa al-Aasar went missing while on their way to work earlier this month, according to their families and an attorney representing them. Mr. al-Banna is a trainee journalist for Egypt’s liberal-leaning Shorouk newspaper while Mr. al-Aasar writes for a website called Ultra Sawt, which is blocked in Egypt.
The two families, their attorney, and rights groups believe the pair have been forcibly disappeared by the security forces, although it wasn’t clear why since no charges have been filed against them. Hundreds of Egyptians have been held secretly for months or longer without charges or trial in recent years, according to human-rights groups.
A third man, opposition party leader Mohamed al-Kassas was seized during a raid on his house last week. Mr. al-Kassas, the deputy head of the legal Strong Egypt Party, was reported missing on Friday before resurfacing in a maximum security wing of Cairo’s Tora Prison, according to Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the party’s leader and a former presidential candidate with an Islamist background. Mr. Aboul Fotouh has also signed on to a call to boycott the March election.
Earlier Tuesday a group of 14 local and international human-rights groups condemned Egypt’s pre-election crackdown in a joint declaration.
“Egypt’s allies should speak out publicly now to denounce these farcical elections,” said the groups, which include Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.
Source : WSJ