- A hashtag was meant to promote Egypt's government but Egyptians had other ideas
- They said "we need to talk" about widespread rights abuses instead
- Activists claim as many as 60,000 are held as political prisoners in Egypt
- Detainees are tortured, forced to live in cramped conditions and denied medical treatment
An Egyptian state-backed initiative to get young people on-board has backfired spectacularly after it was hijacked to highlight rights abuses.
“We need to talk” is the motto of Egypt’s annual World Youth Forum, which is planned to take place in Sharm el-Sheikh next week.
The Forum is intended to “send a message of peace, prosperity, harmony and progress to the entire world,” according to its website.
But following its launch as a hashtag on social media, “we need to talk” took off for all the wrong reasons.
On Twitter, a flood of complaints against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi drowned out what Egypt Independent termed the “propaganda movies” about inspirational Egyptian young people.
The hashtag #WeNeedToTalk is circulating in Egypt to point out the countless violations of human rights and collapsing infrastructure.— Amro Ali (@_amroali) October 30, 2017
Sisi has been under fire for implementing a crackdown on dissent, with “public criticism of the government remained effectively banned,” according to Human Rights Watch.
#WeNeedToTalk about not allowing anyone to talk except the regime supporters, praising fake achievements and illusions— Hadeer El-Mahdawy (@h_elmahdawy) October 30, 2017
Scores of Egyptians have been arrested over their participation in protests, with detainees reporting torture and mistreatment in police custody.
Irish citizen Ibrahim Halawa was released earlier this month having served four years in Egypt for taking part in 2013 anti-government demonstrations.
Pre-trial detention can last up to two years under Egyptian law, although Amnesty International reported that in 2016 more than 1,400 individuals were held beyond that limit.
Human rights groups report that prisons and other detention facilities remain massively overcrowded.
Rights groups have expressed concern about Egypt’s failure to provide adequate medical treatment for prisoners.
- ‘Prisons of Death’: Egyptians Protest Systematic Denial of Medical Care to Detainees
- Three years after the Rabaa massacre, no answers in Egypt
In August, HRW called on the Egyptian authorities to grant adequate medical attention to another journalist, Hisham Gaafar. The director of a private media company, Gaafar was being denied treatment for his deteriorating eyesight and other health complaints.
Travel bans and asset freezes have been ordered against human rights organizations, while NGOs have faced severe restrictions on their activities.
#WeNeedToTalk about the illegal travel ban against activists in Egypt !— Amr Bakly عمرو بقلي (@ABakly) October 30, 2017
Egyptians also used the tag to demand justice for the Rabaa massacre. An estimated 1,000 people were killed in 2013 when two sit-in protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters were raided by security forces.
Others also complained about what they saw as other failings of Sisi’s regime, including the controversial handover of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian President’s popularity has dwindled as a result of soaring prices, and concerns over rights abuses.
- Why is Egypt’s El-Sisi Scared of a Free Press?
- Egypt is in Turmoil - So Why Are Egyptians Begging Sisi to Stand for Reelection?
In spite of this, last month a massive nation-wide campaign was launched to demand Sisi stand for reelection in 2018.
For many Egyptians, it seems, the “To Build It” Sisi nomination campaign and World Youth Forum are two sides of the same coin: government self-promotion which do nothing to deal with the real issues they face.
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