To Stop Sisi, Strengthen Egypt’s Judiciary

Why Restoring the Rule of Law is the Best Way Forward

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends a military ceremony in Paris, France, November 2014 Charles Platiau / REUTERS

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt is a dangerous place for dissidents. Under Sisi’s command, the military and security forces used extraordinary violence to consolidate power in the summer of 2013 that cost at least 817 lives. Security forces detained, charged, or sentenced at least 41,000 people between July 2013 and April 2014, mostly because of their alleged association with the Muslim Brotherhood. The human rights situation deteriorated even further in subsequent years. Egyptian police forcibly disappeared citizens, leaving no legal trail. The parliament passed laws in 2017 and 2018 that empowered the government to closely monitor civil society organizations and media outlets. It shut down those whose activities did not align with its interests. Egypt’s new authoritarianism isn’t simply a continuation of the rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, whose dictatorial tendencies led to his overthrow. It is more repressive and more brutal.   

Rights groups and others have called for Sisi to allow competitive elections, but his regime is unlikely to accede to such demands. Activists and governments would be wiser to direct their energies toward restoring the rule of law and strengthening the judiciary, which has reined in executive power in the past. Today, weak legal institutions allow for rampant corruption and police brutality that threaten not just the Egyptian people but also the regime.

A more independent, professional, and efficient judiciary is a prerequisite not only for the safety and freedom of Egyptians but for any future democratic transition. Most important, it might actually be achievable under current conditions in Egypt.


The prospects for democracy in Egypt are not promising. The 2017 law regulating nongovernmental organizations thoroughly cowed the country’s civil society groups, and political parties are unable to organize effectively. Most Islamists are deeply disillusioned with the democratic process, having participated in free elections in 2011 and 2012, only to be removed from office by a military coup. At the other end of the political spectrum, secular liberal parties such as the Wafd, the Free Egyptians, and the Social Democrats have shown considerable

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