Gianluca Costantini
Political Comics

Red Card!

Egypt uses Africa Cup of Nations as cover for abuses.


We undersigned organizations and individuals draw your attention to continuing, grave human rights violations in Egypt, including the arbitrary detention of labor rights lawyer, Haytham Mohamadein, and Mostafa Maher, a former peaceful political activist and brother of April 6 Movement co-founder Ahmed Maher. Both Mostafa and Haytham were arrested in May 2019, secretly detained for a long period of time and denied due process guarantees. They were charged in a State security case on the basis of “suspicion of intent” to publicly criticize the Egyptian government’s human rights record during the Africa Cup of Nations football tournament.

These are only two cases of many. According to Human Rights Watch, Egypt currently holds an estimated 60 000 political prisoners. Hundreds of people, including children and human rights defenders, have been forcibly disappeared, and civilians are routinely given unfair trials in military and state security courts. Egypt is the world’s fourth biggest prison for media personnel, according to Reporters without Borders. Human rights non-governmental organizations have been shut down. Activists are targeted, banned from leaving the country, or jailed.

Many charges are based on an overly broad anti-terrorism law which equates peaceful human rights advocacy and civil and political dissent with terrorism. Mostafa’s brother Ahmed, Alaa Abd El Fattah and photographer Mahmoud “Shawkan” Abou Zied and many others are required to serve a secondary ‘dual-punishment’ sentence where they are in police custody each evening from 6pm-6am. Prolonged pretrial detention affects hundreds including activist Mohamed Adel, dentist Walid Shawky and lawyer Mohamed Ramadan who has been in pretrial detention for 204 days after he was arrested for wearing a yellow vest. Ramy el Sayed, a member of the April 6th movement, was arrested for attending the funeral of Ahmed El-Masry, who died after having been shot by Egyptian police services in August 2013,he was subsequently sentenced to 10 years in prison. These are a few of the people whose lives are being taken away from them.

The most recent waves of arrests and undue restrictions on rights should be understood in the context of the Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament is of crucial importance for the Egyptian government’s public image and diplomacy. However, large football games have traditionally provided a forum for Egyptian youth to express their political dissent through chants and banners in the stadiums. Because of this, football fans have been one of the main targets of the current crackdown. In May 2019, members of a football fan group (the Ultras White Knights) were arrested and secretly detained. In June 2019 Algerian football fans were arrested over protest slogans. Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a housing rights lawyer was forcibly disappeared in June 2019. We fear that the arrests of Maher and Mohamadein’s marked the beginning of a new crackdown against individuals known to peacefully criticize the government in the run-up to, and during, the Africa Cup of Nations.

The circumstances of their arrests constitute “precautionary measures” taken by the authorities to prevent peaceful activists and lawyers from using the Africa Cup of Nations to shed light on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.

This letter calls on the Organizing Committee for Africa Cup of Nations, the Sponsors of the Africa Cup as well as the Egyptian authorities to take all appropriate and necessary measures to ensure the immediate release of Maher and Mohamadein as well as all other peaceful activists and supporters who have been arrested in the context of the sporting event. The CAF and sponsors of the tournament should insist that the Egyptian government respect the rights of football supporters to the peaceful expression of their views.

Requests to the Organizing Committee for Africa Cup of Nations

The Organizing Committee for Africa Cup of Nations should condemn in the strongest possible way the arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detention of anyone “suspected of having the intent” to criticize the Egyptian government during the tournament.

Article 2 paragraph 4 of the Statute of the CAF states that the CAF “shall respect the human rights recognized internationally”. The arrests of Maher and Mohamadein’s and others are contrary to the stated values of the CAF. Furthermore, as a FIFA continental confederation, CAF’s stance would follow FIFA’s commitment to work with authorities to minimize violations of freedom of expression and assembly, as outlined in FIFA’s 2017 Human Rights policy. We call on the Africa Cup of Nations and the sponsors of this year’s games to demand that the Government of Egypt release those detained for the peaceful expression of their views.

Requests to the Sponsors of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations

We also call on the Orange, TOTAL, VISA, Continental and all other sponsors the Africa Cup of Nations to uphold the human rights values they publicly declare to support. Corporate Social Responsibility should promote and defend basic human rights.

We recall that Stéphane Richard, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ORANGE stated in 2017 that:

“At Orange, our philosophy is that innovation can only become progress when we use it to serve humankind… Innovation is the product of people, both men and women, and of their expertise, creativity, and emotion. They each have a story, ethical convictions, and a vision for the future.”

Similarly, Patrick Pouyanne, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, TOTAL stated in an April 2018 Human Rights Briefing Paper from that:

“Respect for Each Other means, among other things, respect for human rights. At Total, we are committed to remaining vigilant on this point”

The Africa Cup of Nations should be an opportunity to demonstrate an active commitment to free speech. We call on the sponsors of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations to publicly urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Haytham Mohamadein, Mostafa Maher, and all peaceful activists who have been arbitrarily arrested in the context of the Africa Cup.

Professor Noam Chomsky 
Professor Emeritus MIT/Laureate Professor University of Arizona

Aya Hijazi 
Director of Belady: An Island for Humanity

Brian Dooley
Human Rights Activist, London

Bahey eldin Hassan
Director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Holt McCallany 
Actor, New York

Khadidja Nemar 
Chief Legal Advisor, MENA Rights Group

Gianluca Costantini 

Michelle McElroy
Human Rights Activist, Los Angeles

Brad Rowe 
Policy Analyst/Lecturer UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

Koert Debeuf
Editor in Chief EU Observer/Visiting Research Fellow Oxford/Former advisor to the Belgian PM

James Gelvin
Professor Middle East History UCLA


Political Comics