A blazing day in 2013 in Egypt’s Tanta Prison and Emad did his best to hear news from his relatives. They were placed on one side of the hall along with 50 other visitors. Emad sat on the other side, more than three feet away, with 15 other inmates.
They separated two sets of gauze; police officers patrolled the interspace, where Emad’s suspected informants were present. A hodgepodge of voices traveled through space. It was impossible to get accurate information about the charges he was facing.
Instead, Emad relied on his fellow inmates for snippets about the outside world, as authorities had given him little information about why he had been arrested and imprisoned, aside from what he knew about a widespread crackdown on anyone associated with the political opposition.
One day, a cellmate brought shocking news: Emad had been added to Egypt’s national terror list, his bank accounts had been frozen, his property had been seized and several of his factories had been closed.
Emad, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, was eventually released from prison in late 2014 and then, he said, bribed himself to get out of the country.
Nine years after his detention, Emad has gone from being a successful businessman in exile in Turkey with little money, unable to speak the language or provide for his family.
Emad is one of about 7,000 civilians placed on Egypt’s national terror lists, according to figures from the Geneva-based human rights organization Committee for Justice (CFJ). Among the names is a prominent football player, Mohamed Aboutrika, and a former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in Egypt’s 2013 military coup and died as a prisoner three years ago, was also on the terror list, and two of his sons say they are also on it.
For Egyptians on the lists, it has seriously affected their freedom, their ability to earn a livelihood and has had a devastating effect on families separated with no reunification in sight.
Since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power shortly after the 2013 coup, there has been a significant increase in the use of anti-terror legislation in Egypt, which has been criticized by human rights groups as broad, inaccurate and ambiguous. This legislation has become one of the most powerful tools used by the government to target dissidents, activists, politicians, businessmen and their companies, a CFJ report published last year said.
The official line of the Egyptian government, which has not responded to requests for comment on this story, is that adding people to the list is intended to curb and cut off funding to terror organizations. Yet many of the alleged perpetrators are often not even informed that they are on the list, let alone invited to a court of law or proof that they committed the attacks in question.
†[It] allows the criminal judge to make his decision without requiring him to hear the accused or his defense,” CFJ’s Ahmed Mefreh told Al Jazeera. “It does not provide guarantees of due process that require this inclusion, contrary to what is stipulated in various legal systems.”
In addition, the accused have only 60 days to appeal from the day their names are published in the Egyptian Official Gazette. “In practice, even if a verdict or decree is issued not to list or remove someone from the lists, the actions resulting from the listing will remain unchanged, especially for those outside Egypt,” he said. Mefreh.
Suffering in exile
In Turkey, Emad has struggled to build a life for himself. He cannot renew his passport or get official documents from the Egyptian embassy because they refuse to deal with him.
Back in Egypt it’s the same story. His family has two cars that have been collecting dust in the garage for years because they can’t renew the road permit.
Even though Emad’s wife is not on the terror list, every time she tries to leave Egypt to visit him, her passport is temporarily confiscated. This underscores the list’s most excruciating implication: the pain of being separated from loved ones. Then there is the unbearable weight of guilt. “The position my family is in is all because of me,” Emad said several times.
Shortly after the 2011 revolution, Khalid, whose name has also changed, was elected an MP in Giza, a traffic-choked city just southwest of the capital Cairo. When the government collapsed two years later, Khalid hid in another governorate.
As the crackdown intensified and arrests skyrocketed, he went to Upper Egypt and then slipped across the border into Sudan, where he received a call from a friend. “Khalid, you have been added to the [terror] list. I saw your name in the Government Gazette.”
Khalid was shocked. “I never thought or expected this,” he said. “Having your name on this list is a great asset. I have nothing to do with terrorism and I never expected this.”
As a punitive measure, the government added Khalid’s brother and two cousins. “Fortunately they are abroad. If they had been in Egypt they would have been arrested,” he told Al Jazeera.
When he was only 17 years old, one of Khalid’s sons was arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Another has been put on probation, which means that he has to register at his local police station on a weekly basis. While they enlist, political prisoners on probation are regularly arbitrarily detained for several days, or worse, tortured.
Khalid, who is now in Turkey, spends his time teaching the Quran. Like Emad, he hasn’t seen his wife, children, or family in nearly 10 years. They try not to leave for fear of being arrested at the airport. Although now a Turkish national, Khalid is afraid to travel, especially to any country that has a good relationship with Egypt.
Khalid says he lived a modest life in Egypt so that the state could not confiscate his savings or property because he had none.
Emad estimates, however, that the Egyptian government stole nearly $2 million from him.
While Emad and Khalid were once politically active, Egyptian businessmen who have nothing to do with politics have also been added.
In one case, a prominent Egyptian businesswoman took her passport to the government building for renewal, but when she handed it to the official, he wrote the Arabic letter qaf for qayma (list) on it and informed her that the passport would not be returned. approved. returned.
In another case, an e-commerce businessman was informed by a bank teller that his card had been blocked, and then he realized that his account had been frozen and he had been added to the list. Without the ability to pay for goods online, his business collapsed.
“Now it’s not just the opposition in Egypt that is being targeted, but everyone who has a company like mine,” Emad reflected. There is a pause as his voice broke and he struggled to get the words out. “I miss my family and my office…I miss my neighbours, the pyramids and the nice people of Egypt. These are the feelings of everyone in exile.”