How ‘treacherous’ is criticizing Egypt’s president?
Egyptian actor Khaled Abul Naga might be facing high treason charges for criticizing the policies of President Sisi
Egyptian actor Khaled Abul Naga might be facing high treason charges for criticizing the policies of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to the lawsuit, filed by lawyer Samir Sabry, Abul Naga insulted the president, incited the public against the Egyptian army and promoted anarchist principles, which makes him a traitor and necessitates trying him as such.
“Abul Naga is a political dwarf who is attempting to gain fame through making such statements,” Sabry said in a television interview. “Those troublemakers have to be stopped by law.”
Sabry also declared that he plans to file another lawsuit accusing Abul Naga for attempting to topple the regime and “defy the will of Egyptians who elected Sisi as president.”
The lawsuit came in response to Abul Naga’s criticism of the current regime, especially as far as the Sinai evacuations are concerned.
“The regime does not have the right to kick people out of their houses under the pretext of security,” he said in an interview on the margins of the Cairo International Film Festival.
“If the regime cannot defend the country without displacing people, it is failing.”
Abul Naga argued that bringing back the security state would eventually ruin the country, especially that the revolution’s main goal was to eliminate it. Although he did not mention Sisi by name, he explicitly called upon the president to deliver or resign.
“If you cannot do your job then you better leave. Looks like we’ll be saying that very soon,” he added, referring to one of the Egyptian revolution’s most renowned slogans and which was at the time addressed to former President Hosni Mubarak: “Leave.”
Sabry’s lawsuit triggered a wave of indignation among activists and intellectuals who defended Abul Naga’s right to freedom of speech. A group of filmmakers, journalists, and writers issued a statement condemning what they termed “terrorism disguised as patriotism and which allows leveling grave accusations like high treason against citizens who have a different opinion.”
The statement pledged solidarity with Abul Naga and called for the respect of the rights granted by the constitution “for which Egyptians paid with their blood and lives.”
The signatories also called for expelling Sabry from the Bar since he “not only violated the constitution, but also contributes to undermining political life in Egypt.” A hashtag called “support_naga” was also launched on Twitter.
On the other hand, Abul Naga was the subject of a fierce campaign started by several journalists and talk show anchors, several of whom resorted to slander.
Anchor Tawfik Okasha, in fact, claimed that Abul Naga was a homosexual, a matter that Sabry apparently hinted at when he said there was a reason why Abul Naga could not join the army.
“You are no different from tabloids,” added Okasha.
Mazhar Shahin, a preacher-turned-talk-show-host, followed the same strategy.
“If Abul Naga does not like Egypt, he is the one who has to leave,” he said.
“He can go to Syria or Iraq where there is no army to bother him. He just needs to take care of his pants there.”
Journalist Moustafa Bakri accused Abul Naga of taking part in conspiracies against the Egyptian state since the Jan. 25 revolution.
“One is ashamed to talk about those people whose views conflict with the people’s will,” he said on television.
Talk show host Ahmed Moussa sarcastically called upon Sisi to appoint Abul Naga head of operations in the Sinai Peninsula.
“There he can apply all the military tactics he is an expert in and show us how he can fight terrorism,” he said in his show.
Meanwhile, talk show host Khairy Ramdan argued that Abul Naga’s statements are not worth paying attention to in the first place because of how “naïve” they are. “So, if you want someone else to be in charge, who is going to fight terrorism?” he asked. “Wouldn’t it be the army still? What is the alternative in your own point of view, Khaled?”
While objecting to the high treason accusation, journalist Hamdi Rizq argued that Abul Naga has been impulsive in his statements.
“Abul Naga seems to be totally oblivious to the terror through which the country has been going in the past year,” he wrote.
“There is a huge difference between heroic roles you play on the screen and the actual wars waged against Egypt.”
Rizq expressed his surprise that as an actor like himself, Abul Naga was not thankful for having Sisi as head of the state.
“Had it not been for Sisi, you would have stayed at home with no films to make and no festivals to attend,” he said. “You would have been governed by people who reject creativity and believe that arts are prohibited,” he explained, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abul Naga, who refused to retract his statements, cited article 65 of the 2014 constitution, drafted after the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood regime, to hold on to his right to express his views freely.
“Freedom of thought and opinion is guaranteed,” reads the article. “All individuals have the right to express their opinion through speech, writing, imagery, or any other means of expression and publication.”
Abul Naga’s supporters saw the Best Actor award he received Tuesday from the Cairo International Film Festival as a compensation for the insults he has been exposed to following his statements.
Mona Seif, founder of the No to the Military Trial of Civilians movement and sister of controversial activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, said Abul Naga’s patience in the face of slander was well rewarded.
“He has been bearing with incredible attempts at tarnishing his image for the past few days,” she wrote. “Now, he is named Best Actor. Congratulations to him and to us for having him among us.”
Seif also noted the role Abul Naga has played since 2011 in opposing the trial of civilians before military courts. Activist Hazem Abdel Azim wrote: “Congratulations to Khaled Abul Naga for getting the Best Actor award at a time when terrorism is used as a pretext for the suppression of freedom of speech.”
Meanwhile, no official statement was issued regarding Abul Naga’s controversial statements in what could be seen as part of Sisi’s policy toward opposition and insults to his person.
In a speech he gave for the commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the October 6 victory, Sisi stressed that he is not interested in responding to criticism. “If I responded to insults, I would be degrading myself,” he said.
“Many people have been insulted before but that never meant they were weak or unsuccessful.”