Egypt crackdown widens with arrest of leading rights lawyer

  • Published
Supporter of President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi stands in front of anti-government protesters, outside the Egyptian journalists' union building in Cairo (15 April 2016)Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The headquarters of the journalist' union was the rallying point for an anti-government protest on 15 April

A prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer has been arrested, in the latest government move against critics of a recent decision to hand over two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia.

Malek Adly is accused of plotting a coup and spreading false information.

He is among a group of lawyers who filed a lawsuit against a deal signed by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabia over the islands.

The decision led to protests in April, followed by a wave of arrests.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
An anti-protest law gives the authorities the power to ban gatherings of more than 10 people

Malek Adly's was one of a group of journalists supporting the protests. He appeared on TV talk shows, arguing that the islands belonged to Egypt.

Two others from the group were arrested on Sunday during a police raid on the journalists' union, sparking protests by hundreds of journalists who called for Interior Minister, Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar, to be dismissed.

Mr Adly came to prominence during the uprising that drove Hosni Mubarak from power in 2011.

Media caption,

Police raided Egypt's journalists' union for the first time in its history

Rare public backlash

President Sisi's decision to cede control over the Red Sea islands sparked a rare public backlash against him.

He was forced to defend the move, saying the islands - Sanafir and Tiran - had always belonged to Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian troops have been stationed on the islands since 1950 at the request of Saudi Arabia. But critics have objected to the way Mr Sisi has handed them back to Saudi Arabia, saying it is anti-constitutional.

As commander-in-chief of the armed forces in 2013, Mr Sisi led the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi following mass protests against his rule.

Since then, more than 1,000 people have been killed and 40,000 are believed to have been jailed in a crackdown on dissent, most of them supporters of Morsi's now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Local and international human rights activists say the situation in the country is dire, with Amnesty International saying Egypt has reverted "back to a police state".

Why the Red Sea islands matter

  • Sanafir and Tiran are islands, about 4km (2 nautical miles) apart in the Red Sea. Tiran sits at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access the Red Sea
  • The islands are uninhabited, apart from Egyptian military personnel and multi-national peacekeepers since 1982
  • The islands belong to Saudi Arabia, which let Egypt guard them since 1950
  • Israel captured the islands in 1956 and 1982, subsequently returning them to Egypt both times
  • Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was criticised for "selling" Egyptian territory after deciding in April 2016 to hand the islands back to Saudi Arabia