Coalition of Egyptian parties criticises government in rare act of public dissent

Free Current is considering withdrawing from public affairs until 'political life is revived on constitutional foundations'

Free Current coalition leaders, from left, Akmal Kortam, Gamila Ismail, Mohamed Al Sadat and Osama Al Ghazali Harb, call for the release of activist Hisham Kassem. AFP
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A coalition of Egyptian political parties has accused President Abdel Fattah El Sisi's administration of persecuting opposition figures following the recent arrest of one of its members.

Free Current coalition spokesman Emad Gad said on Monday night that the government's policies represented “a severe danger to the political and economic future of our country”.

Although criticism of Mr El Sisi, particularly how he has handled the economy, has increased in recent weeks, it is rare for a political coalition to publicly express its dissatisfaction with the state.

Akmal Qortam, chairman of the Conservative Party, which is part of the coalition, said “we need a new president, a new government and a new parliament”.

Free Current, which was formed in June, called for the release of Hisham Kassem, an activist and senior member of the coalition who was arrested on Friday and charged with slandering a former minister and verbally assaulting state employees.

Mr Kassem will stand trial on September 2 and will remain in custody until then. He could receive a one-year sentence if found guilty, his lawyer said.

His arrest comes after the release of several high-profile activists, including Ahmed Douma, who was jailed for 10 years but was freed last week, and researcher Patrick Zaki and rights lawyer Mohamed El Baqer, who were both released last month.

Gamila Ismail, a senior member of the coalition, stressed the dangers that such practices pose on a country reeling from an economic crisis “that has continued to grind all classes and groups of Egyptian society”.

Ms Ismail, who also leads Al Dostour party, said Mr Kassem’s case was the start of a “tacit attack” by government-affiliated parties.

“We call for the cessation of this act of revenge on Hissam Kassem, for his release and for the release of all prisoners of opinion,” she said.

Since Mr El Sisi came to power in 2013 after the popularly backed ousting of Mohamed Morsi, his government has detained thousands on charges of being supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Rights groups have repeatedly denounced the arrests of journalists and political dissidents whose opinions have been at odds with the government.

Egypt is preparing to hold a presidential election next year but Mr El Sisi has yet to announce whether he intends to run.

However, it is widely expected that he will throw his hat in the ring and be elected for a third term.

Free Current is considering withdrawing from public affairs “in light of what is happening in terms of violations of rights and freedoms and the abuse of the state’s political opponents”.

The coalition is also considering not participating in any electoral events until “political life in Egypt is revived on constitutional foundations”, it said on Tuesday.

Free Current had been expected to field a candidate to run against Mr El Sisi.

The Egyptian economy is struggling, with inflation hitting a record high of 38.2 per cent in July, according to data released by the state-run Central Agency for Mobilisation and Statistics.

Updated: August 29, 2023, 9:33 AM