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April 03, 2014

Farmer to Serve Prison Time for Naming Donkey after Minister of Defense

By Mai El-Sadany

When 31-year-old farmer Omar Abdul Maged rode his donkey through Ashraf Village in Egypt’s Qena province, put a military style cap over the donkey’s head, and covered the donkey’s body with a poster of Minister of Defense and now-presidential candidate Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, he probably didn’t imagine that his satirical form of opposition would land him in jail.

(Photo above by Reuters)

But on Sunday, the Qena Misdemeanors Court sentenced him to a year in jail for “humiliating the military.” Abdul Maged was first reported to police by fellow villagers and was immediately detained. He’s already spent six months in custody. 

Although likely to be appealed and perhaps overturned, Abdul Maged’s sentence is not singular. In January 2014, Vodafone executives were called in for questioning by prosecutors over whether a television advertisement with a puppet named Abla Fahita was using coded messages for bomb attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood. In May 2013, an English teacher in Alexandria was called in for questioning when he included a quote on his exam with an insulting reference to then-former President Mohammed Morsi that allegedly and indirectly compared him to a sheep.

Maged’s sentencing comes at a time when the State has mobilized against all voices of opposition, Islamist and non-Islamist alike. Just last week after only two court hearings for the case, one court issued death sentences for 529 Islamists for alleged involvement in an attack on a police station that led to the death of one officer. Other decisions in similar mass trials are also pending, in addition to a number of other cases implicating Islamist leaders, academics, and activists for charges including espionage and insulting the judiciary. To make matters worse, thousands of protesters were arrested this year on the third anniversary of the January 25 Revolution, and journalists continue to be threatened with the risk of arrest and trial.

Egypt’s protest law, under which a number of prominent revolutionary figures, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, have been charged, significantly impedes the ability of any opposition movement to gather in Egypt’s streets without being targeted in a potentially violent manner by policemen. This was certainly the case when police brutally dispersed a “No to Military Trials” demonstration in November of 2013.

A new anti-terrorism law, expected to be issued in the next few days, will give State institutions even greater powers to crackdown on any activity that supposedly threatens the nation’s stability and national security.

Omar Abdul Maged’s donkey sentence reflects the deep repression gripping post-coup Egypt, and it’s poised to get even worse.