Egypt arrests author, publisher over book on economy

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Egypt has arrested an economist and his publisher over a book that challenged President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s economic policies, security officials said Tuesday, the latest in a wave of detentions in recent years targeting all forms of dissent.

The officials said prize-winning economist Abdel-Khaleq Farouq and his publisher, Ibrahim el-Khateib, were detained Sunday. The economist’s lawyers said he was questioned for seven hours before prosecutors ordered him remanded in police custody for four days pending the completion of the investigation.

The two face charges of publishing “fake news,” according to the security officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief the media.

The book — entitled “Is Egypt Really a Poor Country?” — has not been published, but was posted online by activists. It contains scathing criticism of el-Sissi’s economic policies, accusing the general-turned-president of lacking the vision needed to remedy Egypt’s economic woes.

Farouq blames the country’s poor economy on what he called the military’s monopoly of power since 1952, when officers toppled the monarchy.

The book’s thesis is primarily a repudiation of an assertion made by el-Sissi that Egypt was a poor country that could no longer afford costly state subsidies on key commodities and services, for decades a cornerstone of state policy to help the poor make ends meet.

In the book’s introduction, the author claims that el-Sissi’s assertion on Egypt’s poverty “exposed blatant ignorance of the realistic and untapped capabilities in Egypt’s economy and society and the lack of vision capable of exploiting these abilities and potential.”

Egypt has waged an unprecedented crackdown on dissent since el-Sissi led the military overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013. Thousands of people have been jailed, mainly Islamists but also several prominent secular activists.

The government has banned all unauthorized street protests and has blocked hundreds of websites, including some run by independent media and human rights groups.

First elected to office in 2014 and now serving a second, four-year term, el-Sissi has made the economy the focus of his rule, with a hands-on drive for fiscal reform, improving infrastructure and the construction of new cities. In exchange for a $12 billion IMF loan secured in 2016, he ordered steep hikes in the price of fuel, government services and utilities. The measures fed popular discontent but did not spark significant unrest.

Egypt’s parliament is packed with el-Sissi’s supporters, and his Cabinet is entirely made up of loyalists. The president has bristled at criticism of his policies, once angrily yelling at a lawmaker who suggested postponing the lifting of state subsidies.

In a televised address earlier this month, the 63-year-old el-Sissi boasted that he has for 55 years been closely monitoring “every detail, every part and every circumstance” in Egypt. His accumulated knowledge of the country, he said, has given him the will to take difficult decisions.

Farouq’s book, according to the text published online, offers suggestions for improving the economy based in large part on fighting graft and waste as well as tax and administrative reforms.

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