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Al-Sisi regime

How Cairo spies on regime critics online

by Sofian Philip Naceur

In brief

Mada Masr is one of Egypt’s few independent news platforms

Mada Masr is one of Egypt’s few independent news platforms

In its surveillance operations targeting free press outlets and critics of the system, the Egyptian regime uses spyware – some of it developed by European companies. Since al-Sisi came to power, state agencies have acquired sophisticated spying software from France, Italy and Germany. The digital technology evidently serves to track regime critics on the internet.

Spyware developed by the Anglo-German Gamma Group was acquired by Egypt even before the Arab Spring in 2011. In 2018, however, the regime expanded its options by buying CEREBRO software. It was developed by the French Amesys Group and can be used to spy on smartphones. Nexa Technologies – also based in France – bought CEREBRO and sold it to Egypt through an intermediary in the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, Amnesty International, the human-rights organisation, reported in 2020 that it had also found sophisticated FinFisher spyware in Egypt. FinFisher is a Munich-based company. Details of a deal between FinFisher and Egypt remain unknown. However, European spyware companies are apparently systematically selling their products to Egypt’s cash-rich security apparatus.

In the eyes of Christopher Resch, who works for the German section of Reporters without Borders (RSF – Reporters sans Frontiers), it is a scandal that the distribution of FinFisher products has facilitated spying on journalists and others at work. He demands that German law enforcement agencies must clarify how the surveillance software of a German company fell into the hands of Egypt’s authoritarian regime despite export controls. This technology contributes to limiting the freedom of expression in Egypt (see main story).


Sofian Philip Naceur works as a project manager for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Tunis and as a freelance journalist. His work focuses on Egypt and Algeria.
mail@sofiannaceur.de