Egypt cracks down on vocal foreign critic

A prominent political analyst from the United States was denied entry to Egypt and deported, in an escalation of a crackdown on political opposition, interpreted as a warning to foreign critics of its policies.

In a separate development, the authorities sent 439 civilians to military trial, using new legislation that gives Egypt’s powerful army jurisdiction over large parts of the civil infrastructure. 

Michele Dunne, a former US diplomat and a senior analyst at the think-tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, was stopped on arrival in Cairo last Friday night, detained for hours, and deported the following day.

A frequent visitor to Egypt, Dunne has been a vocal critic of the Egyptian regime’s authoritarianism, which has seen at least 16 000 political prisoners detained, according to the police’s figures. It is suspected that her own detention was prompted by her stance. 

Several Egyptian scholars have been targeted under the crackdown, including politics professors Amr Hamzawy and Emad Shahin, and the head of Human Rights Watch, Ken Roth, was refused entry to Egypt. 

But Dunne’s deportation is thought to be Egypt’s first move against a Western academic. Dunne had travelled to Egypt to take part in a debate with pro-regime figures, including current and former government officials. 

Other analysts said that her treatment would deter similar engagement from Middle East specialists, and risked bolstering rather than discrediting Dunne’s arguments. 

“The barring of Dunne will empower her argument that the authorities in Egypt cannot tolerate opposing views,” wrote Nervana Mahmoud, another commentator on Egyptian politics. 

Analyst HA Hellyer suggested academics may now think twice about studying and commenting on Egyptian politics: “Her ban will be interpreted in very stark terms: that even if you are impartial or independent, the price of your disagreement may be phenomenally disproportionate to any perceived damage you might be accused of causing.” 

Egypt’s foreign ministry denied that Dunne had been refused entry for political reasons, and said she should not have tried to enter on a tourist visa, the standard way. 

Separately, prosecutors on Monday referred the 439 civilians to military courts for their alleged involvement in riots that took place in August last year. The decision is permitted under new legislation that gives the army the right to try civilians accused of crimes that take place in most public spaces. But concerns have been raised since the alleged crimes took place.
Critics of military trials say their procedures lack transparency and oversight. – © Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2014

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