Demonstrations in Egypt: arrests, social media blockage as a response

Peaceful Assembly

As previously covered by the CIVICUS Monitor, whereas the new NGO law is an additional concern for civic space in the country, the protests that have been taking place since 20th September 2019 raise further concerns regarding the human rights situation in Egypt, with arrests and use of excessive force documented against protesters. 

The protests started through social media mobilisation using the hashtag #the_people_demand_the_fall_of_the_regime, and #Leave_Sisi following the publication of videos by Mohamad Ali, who is currently in exile but used to work with the armed forces on several projects. In this series of videos, Mohamad Ali accused the President of corruption whereas President Sisi labelled these accusations as “lies” and “fabrications”.

The protests started on 20th September 2019 and continued over the weekend in various cities across the country. Media reports and social media posts showed clashes between the protesters and the security forces. Reports by CSOs stated that security officers responded with force, beating and detaining protesters and firing tear gas. 

Thousands of people have been arrested since the protests started according to the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, including activist and lawyer Mahienour al-Massry who according to #freemahienour was arrested on Sunday afternoon outside the State Prosecution Office in Cairo. 

On 13th November 2019, the Egypt Universal Periodic Review will take place which provides an opportunity for UN members to review the country's human rights record.  As presented in the joint submission prepared by the Arab NGO Network for Development and CIVICUS, freedom of peaceful assembly was a key right under scrutiny and Egypt received around 19 recommendations, yet implementation is still lacking. 


During the protests,  blocking and disruption of social media was reported.  According to NetBlocks internet observatory, Facebook Messenger, Facebook image CDN servers and BBC News were disrupted from Sunday 22nd September 2019. However, the media regulator stated that "it was likely that the BBC and other news websites have been blocked in Egypt over "inaccurate" coverage of limited protests on Friday". In addition, Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) issued a statement calling on international media outlets to "abide by internationally recognised professional standards in their coverage of Egyptian affairs and news". 

In a separate incident, on 10th September 2019, security forces raided the home of Magdi Shendi arrested one of his sons and took him to the Giza Security Directorate. Shendi is the editor of the private newspaper Al-Mashhad. A statement issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information stated that Al-Mashhad may be considered "the only semi-opposition newspaper that is left today." 

The statement calls on the Ministry of Interior to "urgently release Magdi Shendi’s son, respect the Constitution, punish those responsible for that crime and apologise for the practices carried out by its officers". 


On 14th September 2019, the South Cairo Criminal court postponed the appeal hearing regarding 13 human rights defenders who were issued with travel bans in connection with case 173/2011 known as the foreign funding case. The hearing will now take place on 17th November 2019. One of the activists facing a travel ban, Gamal Eid, Executive Director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said prior to the appeal hearing: 

 “All we hope is that the Criminal Court rectify such grave mistake that constitutes an encroachment on the law, the Constitution and our rights. We hope the court restores the sovereignty of the law and the impartiality of the justice system, especially since the verdict we expect shall be handed down by the same judge who ordered the acquittal of all the foreign defendants involved in the case, all of them, in the same case; the case of the civil society that spares no effort to defend the rights of citizens, and the only crime that it commits- based on the acquittal verdict- is that it stands away from the group of hypocrites”.