CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian court overturned Thursday a decision to release a prominent activist who has been detained for nearly five months without trial over what his family says are unjust charges.

Alaa Abdel Fattah, a 38-year-old software engineer, developed a reputation on social media during the 2011 uprisings that swept the Middle East and in Egypt toppled longtime President Hosni Mubarak. He was arrested in September amid an unprecedented crackdown that followed small protests demanding President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi step down.

On Wednesday, a court had ordered that Abdel Fattah be released but shortly afterward the State Security Prosecutors appealed the decision before another court.

“We were expecting the release order to be reversed,” said Abdel Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif. “Actually, we consider yesterday’s release order like a glitch in the system and an off-course move.”

“The general rule is that any opposition voice should remain in jail and releases are the exception,” said Seif, herself a prominent human rights advocate.

Abdel Fattah’s arrest in September came six months after his release from prison, where he had served a five-year sentence for having participated in a peaceful protest against military trials of civilians in 2013. To many, his imprisonment after el-Sissi rose to power was another sign of Egypt’s return to autocratic rule.


“Alaa spent very few days out of prison since el-Sissi had risen to power,” said his sister. “We believe that certain security or sovereign bodies want Alaa to remain in prison regardless of what he does.”

For several years, local and international human rights organizations have criticized Egyptian authorities for detaining people for long without trial. They have recently alleged that Egyptian authorities have begun implicating detainees in new legal cases while in custody only a few months before they complete the two-year cap of pre-trial detention in the initial case.

In July, Amnesty International had warned of the “growing trend” of re-imprisoning critics instead of complying with court orders to release them. The London-based advocacy group dubbed the practice “the revolving doors of Egypt’s arbitrary detention system.”

Abdel Fattah was among more than 3,000 people who were arrested following the eruption of protests on Sept 20. Hundreds of Egyptians had taken to the streets after a self-exiled businessman, who claimed to have worked with the military for years, accused el-Sissi of misusing public funds to build presidential palaces. el-Sissi, a general-turned-president had denied these allegations.

Abdel-Fattah was charged with belonging to a terrorist organization that authorities never named and using social media to spread false news that could threaten national security.