In fact, Mr. Sisi has gone in the opposite direction, arresting Mr. Abbas and others activists in the past month, in what appears to be an effort to silence even the small number of critics still inside Egypt, including some who had already started to self-censor out of fear of arrest.
“The crackdown on free speech human rights defenders seems to be intensifying,” Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, said on Twitter. “I expect European leaders to speak out firmly.”
Among those arrested in the past month were a satirist who got in trouble in 2016 for pranking policemen by giving them balloons made from condoms; a woman who complained on Facebook about being sexually harassed in a bank; and a trade union activist who kept a low profile in recent months.
“The difference with this crackdown is that it’s going in every direction,” said Hossam Bahgat, a prominent journalist and human rights activist. “They appear to have a list of people they are going after, based on their public profile rather than anything they have said. It’s scary.”
Military courts have taken up some cases, often imposing harsh sentences on dissenters. On Tuesday, human rights activists said a court sentenced Ismail Iskandarani, a researcher and writer, to 10 years’ imprisonment on a raft of charges including membership in a banned organization.