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Egypt's blogger/activist @Alaa’s detention triggers mass protest against military trials

Thousands take the streets to demand freedom for renowned Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El-Fattah, imprisoned for refusing - on principle - to answer questions by the military prosecution

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 1 Nov 2011
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Thousands gathered on Monday in downtown Cairo's Talaat Harb Square demanding the release of Alaa Abd El-Fatah, one of Egypt's most well-known bloggers and political activists, and expressing support for his decision to refuse to be questioned by the military prosecution on the grounds that it had no business interrogating civilians.

Abd El-Fattah, who was brought before the military prosecution on Monday, also argued that in this particular case - the 9 October violent clashes between the army and Coptic protesters - the army stands accused of the crime, and hence it would be absurd for a criminal suspect to be allowed to question another presumed suspect.

Activists have long been campaigning against the military trials of civilians, demanding that they are tried in civilian courts instead. They also believe that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was trying to lay blame for the Bloody Sunday massacre, in which 26 people were killed and hundreds injured, on the victims. They have bundles of evidence, in the form of eyewitness testimony, videos and photos to support their contention that on that night the army and the anti-riot police had, suddenly, erupted into a paroxysm of extreme violence against a fundamentally peaceful protest, leading to the large number of deaths and injuries.

The protest of mostly young activists, many of whom only knew Abd El-Fattah through his @Alaa Twitter account, chanted “Alaa’s detention is liberating a country”. Abd El-Fatah’s stand was considered by the demonstrating crowd as a courageous sacrifice, which should be built upon, so as to bring an end to the military trials of civilians.

The demonstration marched from Talaat Harb Square where it initially gathered passing by Tahrir Square and ending in front of the Appeals Prison in the Cairo district of Bab El-Khalq, where Abd el-Fatah is detained. The protestors wore yellow badges on their shirts reading “I am against the military trial of civilians”. As the march brought traffic to a halt in many of the roads it passed, demonstrators had the chance to speak to car passengers explaining their stand.

The protesters also chanted the name of the young Coptic activist, Mina Daniel, who was killed by a bullet in the chest on Bloody Sunday. Daniel, who was active in the Egyptian revolution since 25 January, is hailed a "martyr" both by the Coptic community whose rights he sought to defend, and the revolutionary activists whose comrade he was.

The protesters, who shouted many anti-SCAF chants, demanded that the military hand over power to a civilian government. A common chant said: “Don’t be afraid to say it out loud, the military council has to go”.

When passing by police or state security officers the crowd chanted “the interior ministry are thugs” and “the military and interior ministry are thugs” condemning the recent death of Essam Atta, who activists allege was killed as a result of police torture after he was detained by the military. The young demonstrators also sprayed graffiti by the hundreds all along their march from Talaat Harb to Bab El-Khalq.   

As the demonstration finally reached the prison where Abd El-Fattah is being held the crowd, which had reached several thousands, halted their march chanting loudly for their voices to be heard by their hero, Alaa, in his prison cell within.

For its part, the military and the police seemed to have been under strict orders not to interfere with the protest. An unusually small number of the anti-riot, Central Security Forces, were in evidence, while handfuls of police officers and officers of the State Security, now renamed National Security, roamed around the marchers.

The demonstrators finally marched back to Tahrir Square, as they continued their chants in support of Abd El-Fattah.

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