Fifth anniversary of Egypt's 2011 revolution marked by security concerns

Zeinab El-Gundy , Sunday 24 Jan 2016

Non-Islamist political parties say that they will commemorate the 25 January Revolution at their headquarters only

Egyptian policeman in Tahrir
A woman walks past an Egyptian policeman, a day ahead of the fifth anniversary of the Jan. 25, 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016 (AP)

On Monday, Egypt marks the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, amid wide anticipation and concern from the Egyptian government about what may happen in terms of protests and violence.

When it comes to non-Islamist political parties and movements, this year won't see any street-based or public activity or commemorations, unlike in previous years.

"The parties of the Democratic Current decided to organise events at their headquarters," Khaled Dawood, official spokesperson of the Constitution Party, told Ahram Online.

The Constitution Party is a member of the liberal-leftist, pro-25 January Democratic Current, as are the Nasserist Popular Current and Karama Party, the Socialist Popular Alliance Party and the Socialist Party.

The Democratic Current parties are also commemorating the first anniversary of the killing of Shaimaa El-Sabbagh, a leftist activist and a member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party who was shot on 24 January 2015 by security forces during a rally in Cairo's Talaat Harb Square.

"As the Constitution Party spokesperson, I advise my members not to go to the streets and risk their lives," Dawood said, adding that he believes most Egyptians will stay at home on the day, which is already a national holiday.

"As a group of political parties, we took a decision not to take part in any street action of any kind because we are aware of this state of alertness by the security forces," Dawood said, adding that these parties do not want to be mixed up with Muslim Brotherhood calls for protests.

Aside from the fact that unauthorised protests are illegal in Egypt, Dawood is surprised by what he called "exaggerated actions and alertness" by security authorities.

Many activists of  April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and Tamarod are currently detained pending investigations, accused by authorities of calling for anti-government protests on 25 January, despite the fact that no non-Islamist group or movement has officially called for any kind of street activity on that day.

Some activists have been accused of joining an allegedly anti-regime group called "The 25 January Youth.".

Security forces also have conducted mass searches of rented flats near Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the 2011 uprising. 

Ahram Online was told by eyewitnesses, including foreigners living in the downtown area, that apartments rented by expats as well as by non-Cairene Egyptians have been inspected by security forces in the past couple of weeks.

"If it (the security crackdown) were for terrorist attacks, well, terrorist organisations are not waiting for 25 January and we have already seen an escalation in their attacks in the past three or four weeks," Dawood told Ahram Online.

Armed forces deployment

The security alertness reached its peak on Friday when the Egyptian armed forces deployed forces to Cairo and a number of governorates to aid police in securing key areas such as highways and public squares, including Tahrir Square.

In parallel, since the start of January, Friday prayer sermons authorised by Egypt's Ministry of Religious Endowments have criticised calls for protests on 25 January, warning against them.

The only political group that has announced it will go to the streets, without giving any further details, was the Muslim Brotherhood led-coalition, the National Democratic Alliance.

The alliance issued a statement Thursday calling for a week of protests, naming it "We will continue our revolution," while giving no information on the timing or place of protests.

The alliance, which lost a lot of its momentum among Morsi supporters in 2015, has been issuing statements since the start of January calling for protests all over Egypt. However, each week usually ends in protests in a few districts and villages in the North Delta.

Earlier in January, the spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Montassar, issued a statement on his Facebook page speaking directly about the 2011 revolution anniversary and giving advice to "revolutionaries."

"We ask revolutionaries, regardless of their ideologies, to take all precautions to secure themselves, especially with the security procedures taken by the regime," Montassar said, referring to the recent security crackdown targeting political activists.

In his message, the Brotherhood spokesperson advised those protesting to change their places of residence and to take measures to secure telephone and online communications.

According to early interior ministry statements, nearly 69 Facebook pages were closed and their five admins arrested for inciting illegal protest on 25 January, as well as inciting violence against the state and spreading the message of a banned group — the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aside from the Democratic Current, no other parties are organising any major commemoration of the 2011 revolution.

The spokesperson of the Free Egyptians Party, Shahab Wagih, told Ahram Online that his party would celebrate the January Revolution by "achieving its goals through work and politics, not through events."

The party, founded soon after the 2011 revolution,  won 65 seats in the House of Representatives in last December's elections.

President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi wondered in a public speech in December why some were calling for protests on the anniversary, although he said he would leave his position if the people asked him to do so.

Short link: