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Fri. October 23, 2020
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IAF Editorials
Controlling Coronavirus and Egypt’s Government
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By Maria Ahmed 

In the past few months, the vast majority of the world has been placed under lockdown. With COVID-19 rapidly rising throughout the world, some global leaders have seemed to adopt authoritarian responses rather than democratic approaches, whereas, using the democratic approach could make a positive impact in the spread of the virus.

Egypt, a democratic republic, has handled this pandemic in a way that some view as an opportunity to reinforce its power on citizens. Initially, in the response to COVID-19, authorities administered strict punishments for those breaking laws that were established to prevent the widespread of coronavirus. While this was applauded by the public, concerns were raised when President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi gave himself and his government more power by amending the country’s emergency law.

As Sissi approved these amendments, the Egyptian government responded by defending him, saying that the measures are necessary in preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, many human rights activists argue that this increase in power is an easy passage for the government to abuse the rights and freedoms of the people. Joe Stork, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, states “Egyptian authorities should address real public health concerns without putting in place additional tools of repression.” Human Rights Watch has been proactively reviewing the amendments that Sissi has approved and has stated, “only five of the 18 amendments to the law clearly involve public health issues.”

Although these measures were meant to address public health and safety issues, some of the amendments that Sissi approved gave him and his government an unprecedented amount of power that could later hurt the people of Egypt. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, states that 15 individuals were arrested for spreading alleged “false news” about coronavirus, and a doctor and a pharmaceutical worker were arrested for a Facebook video and posts complaining about the lack of masks. Moreover, in Mid-March, Ruth Michaelson was forced to leave Egypt after questioning Egypt’s official tally of cases.

As the world tries to control the spread of COVID-19, it is important that we also control excess power that many leaders are grabbing on to. Failing to check and balance the power of these global leaders can and will result in a global community that is less democratic.  International organizations and institutions are quintessential in resisting this power shift dynamic. By doing so, the Egyptian government’s power woud checked by an external actor, with member states exhibiting how they balance their powers during the pandemic, and how to balance those powers after the pandemic.

Failure to address Sissi’s pursuit of excess power may result in other Arab country leaders to  follow in his footsteps. Controlling the power that Sissi has asserted for himself and his government is necessary in preventing oppression. If Egypt is not held accountable, and other Arab leaders follow Sissi’s footsteps, it may result in a second Arab Spring.

Amidst this pandemic, many may view that leaders should have more power; however, in Egypt, an increase in power may negatively impact the people there for at least the near future. By implementing a system of global checks and balances, Egypt will be able to adopt and implement democratic responses to COVID-19, and life after pandemic.

Maria Ahmed is a rising senior at George Mason University, majoring in Government and International Politics with a concentration in International Political Economy, and a minor in International Security. 

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