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Egypt arrests Mubarak supporter who criticized government

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptian prosecutors Thursday charged the administrator of a Facebook page that supports former autocratic president Hosni Mubarak with spreading false news and undermining national interests after a post implied Mubarak did more to help Egypt's poor than the current government of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Karim Hussein, whose Facebook page "I am sorry, Mr. President" has more than 3 million followers, was arrested Tuesday, a few days after he posted video clips of Mubarak's old speeches, in which he expressed compassion for the poor and voiced his vehement opposition to lifting state subsidies. Mubarak was forced from power by a pro-democracy uprising in 2011.

The post came on the heels of the government's decision to raise fuel prices by up to 30 percent for the fourth time in three years — a move expected to inflict further pain on Egypt's middle class and poor.

"This is not first time (Hussein has) published online, but the catastrophe happened when he compared prices under Mubarak and el-Ssisi," said Gamal Eid, an Egyptian human rights lawyer. "Then, he became accused of spreading false news. In fact, it is not false news and he has not committed any crime. He is just expressing his views."

Earlier this week, Hussein posted a photograph of Mubarak holding the trophy of the African Cup of Nations and surrounded by Egypt's triumphant national soccer team, which won the African tournament several times under Mubarak's rule.

The post alluded to the early elimination of Egypt's national team from the current tournament, which Egypt is hosting. The defeat has been a source of embarrassment for the Egyptian government, which had hoped that hosting the tournament as well as winning it might boost its popularity.

Egypt under el-Sissi has implemented a sweeping crackdown on dissent, jailing activists, bloggers and others under vague laws that criminalize nearly any criticism of authorities. Egypt's military overthrew the country's first elected president, an Islamist who proved divisive, in 2013. Since then, authorities have rolled back freedoms won in the 2011 uprising that drove Mubarak from power.

On Thursday, parliament voted with a sweeping majority in favor of a presidential decree extending a nationwide state of emergency for another three months. El-Sissi's regime argues that emergency laws are needed to crush the Islamic militants he has been battling for several years, especially in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula. Human rights advocates complain the emergency laws are also used to repress peaceful political adversaries.

The High State Security prosecutor ordered Hussein's detention for 15 days. He was also charged with joining a banned group that seeks to undermine the state — an allusion to the Muslim Brotherhood organization, an accusation that has been recently brought against most critics of El-Sissi.

"The fabrication of allegations is no longer the exclusive work of the police or the state security apparatus but the prosecution has become involved too," said Eid, the rights lawyer. "This is very dangerous because people will lose faith in the judiciary and this will take us back to pre-modern times."

Eid predicted Hussein would not stand trial because of the weak allegations against him but face a prolonged pre-trial detention. He said pre-trail detention has become a notorious way of punishing political opponents.

"I am sorry, Mr. President," is one of several Facebook pages created in 2011 by Mubarak supporters who opposed the pro-democracy groups behind the ouster of longtime autocrat Mubarak. Hussein's page usually posts pictures of Mubarak and his family and has been a platform to voice support for the military since it overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013.

"We do not agree with (Hussein) and we do not even like him," said Eid. "But as far as freedom of expression is concerned, he did not commit any crime and our duty is to defend him." Upon Hussein's arrest, a statement was posted on the Facebook page voicing the group's "complete faith" in the state and stressing that the police had treated him with respect.

Mubarak was freed from prison in 2017, ending nearly six years of legal proceedings against him. He was acquitted by the country's top appeals court of charges that he ordered the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising.

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