Despite Cairo-Doha reconciliation, Egyptian activist re-arrested after interview with Al-Jazeera

Despite Cairo-Doha reconciliation, Egyptian activist re-arrested after interview with Al-Jazeera
4 min read
Egypt - Cairo
19 September, 2022
Prominent Egyptian activist Sherif El-Ruby got detained this week after a phone interview with Al-Jazeera. Surprisingly, this occurred following Egyptian president Sisi's visit to Doha, marking an end to a four-year feud with Qatar.
Sherif El-Ruby has been in and out prison since 2013. [Getty]

High-profile Egyptian activist Sherif El-Ruby has been arrested this week and will be in custody for 15 days on charges of "being part of a terrorist group" and "disseminating false news", less than two weeks after he had been interviewed over the phone by Qatar-funded Al-Jazeera news broadcaster.

Surprisingly, Ruby's detention came only a few days after Egypt's president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi conducted an official visit to the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, marking a reconciliation between Cairo and Doha after a four-year feud.

On the same day, Egypt ordered the release of an Al Jazeera journalist held in pretrial detention as Sisi concluded his trip to Doha.

Ruby's detention also occurred less than four months after he was released as part of the work of the Presidential Pardon Committee that started earlier in May following around 2-year pre-trial detention for similar charges. 

Ruby is the official spokesman of the 6 of April youth movement, which was once among the most influential political groups in Egypt, especially prior to and during the 25 January Revolution.

The group no longer has an impact on political life since Sisi took over the country in 2014.

After his release, Ruby posted a series of reflections on social media about his experience in detention and called for releasing all prisoners of conscience.

"The Egyptian media is boycotting Sisi today and won't talk about him as he's in a visit to the terrorist Qatar," Ruby tweeted sarcastically on 13 September.

"God gifted us with the right to live freely and decently, justice, and fairness. He bestowed on us the right of choice as to everything. But the regime in Egypt gave us two things: the right to be jailed and be dead," he tweeted the same day.  

Ruby further expressed his ordeal of finding a job and being banned from travelling outside the country to see his brother who lives in Europe, currently being treated for a stroke.

Ruby has been in and out of prison since 2013 and recycled into new cases processed by the authorities. The last time he was released was on 30 May amid efforts for a long-awaited national dialogue between opposition figures, excluding the Muslim Brotherhood group which was legally designated a terrorist group since 2014, and the government, sponsored by Sisi. The dialogue is expected to kick off next month. 

Meanwhile, Ruby's arrest set off an uproar among Egyptian activists.

"It's totally outrageous and unfair to detain Sherif El Ruby four months after his release….believe yourselves when you tell yourselves that you are organising a national dialogue. It will be a national dialogue at the national security [agency]," journalist and activist Rasha Azab, cynically, tweeted.

"The presidential pardon committee said it would offer help for the released detainees after what Sherif El Ruby exposed [to Al-Jazeera] that he couldn't find a job….and that he was subjected to tightened security measures – statements that led to his detention shortly after his release based on this pardon. When will this [vicious] circle stop?" renowned political sociologist and writer Dr Ammar Ali Hassan wrote on Twitter.

Several dozen pre-trial detainees have been freed recently after the committee started working, including celebrated labour activist Haitham Mohammadien.

Egypt's human rights record is regularly condemned, with local and international groups saying there are currently 60,000 political prisoners behind bars over terrorism-related charges.