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Since Trump’s Mideast visit, extrajudicial killings have spiked in Egypt

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Aug ,31 \NewNews

Two months after Sabry Mohammed Said vanished, his body turned up at the morgue. He had been shot three times and severely beaten, his family said.

The 46-year-old accountant and father of five was a rank-and-file member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement. Egyptian authorities claimed he was also a terrorist who was killed in a June gun battle with police.

But Said’s daughter Sara Sabry said he hadn’t been politically active in three years and had never been arrested. When relatives went to get a police report, the precinct had no record of the incident.

Now, Sabry is convinced that her father died in the custody of Egypt’s notorious state security forces.

“They killed him because he opposed the government,” said Sabry, her face somber and framed by a lime-green headscarf. “Anyone in the opposition is at risk of having this happen to him these days.”

Said’s death is part of a spike in extrajudicial killings and other forms of state abuses that have been committed in recent months under President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, according to activists, victims and their families. They date the rise to President Trump’s visit to the Middle East in May, in which he urged Arab leaders to take a tougher stance against Islamist extremists and made clear that human rights would not be a high priority for his administration in its dealings with regional allies.

State security forces have arrested dozens of opposition party members. More than 100 websites deemed critical of Sissi’s government have been blocked. Human rights lawyers and activists have been jailed for staging protests, and their assets have been frozen. The judiciary is being stacked with pro-Sissi appointees, lawyers and judges say.

In July alone, there were 61 reported extrajudicial killings, more than double the total over the previous six months, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom.

“The arrest campaigns have become fiercer, and the numbers of people and groups being targeted are scary,” said Asmaa Naem, 27, a human rights lawyer in the northern city of Alexandria. “This is reaching even apolitical people, not just those who are politically active.”

The Egyptian government did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

[Autocrats hear a clear message during Trump trip: U.S. will not ‘lecture’ on rights]

Previous U.S. administrations denounced Egypt’s rulers for abuses and pressed for democratic reforms, often using the $1.3 billion in U.S. military aid Egypt receives annually — second only to Israel — as leverage. President Barack Obama froze part of that aid for two years after Egypt’s military, then led by Sissi, overthrew the elected Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi.

But Trump has embraced Sissi, inviting him to the White House in April, which Obama never did. Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia was widely seen as solidifying a new relationship focused on combating terrorism.

“The visit has emboldened the Arab rulers that whatever violations they commit against their people are going to be accepted by the Trump administration,” said Gamal Eid, executive director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. “This gave Sissi the greenlight to increase the repression. He’s been empowered.”

Last Tuesday, the United States notified Egypt that it would slash or delay more than $290 million in military and economic aid, partly in response to a law that undermines nongovernmental organizations. “We remain concerned about Egypt’s lack of progress in key areas, including human rights and the new NGO law,” said a State Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as per diplomatic protocol.

The cuts surprised many observers and angered the Sissi government. But last Thursday, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Sissi in Cairo. Sissi’s office said Trump phoned to stress “the strength of the friendship between both countries” and that their conversation “showed Trump’s keenness to step over any obstacles facing this friendship.” A U.S. official confirmed the call.

The State Department official said the administration “will continue to support Egypt in defeating extremists and terrorism.” Egypt should eventually get $195 million of the restricted aid slated to fight internal security threats and terrorism, U.S. officials said.

In speeches, Sissi has declared war against Islamist extremist groups, including an Islamic State affiliate based in the northern Sinai and their counterparts in neighboring war-divided Libya.

But under the guise of fighting terrorism, security forces are also cracking down on moderate Islamists and secular opponents, as well as independent media. Since taking office in 2014, Sissi has jailed thousands of members of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

With presidential elections scheduled for next year, Sissi is facing mounting criticism over rising prices and reduced government subsidies. Critics say he’s clamping down on dissent to prevent a repeat of the revolts that ousted President Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring uprising six years ago.

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