Revolutionary figures remain targets for military

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 10 Jan 2012

Five prominent revolutionaries face serious legal charges as tensions escalate between Egypt's activist community and ruling military

Nawara and Shahin
Nawara Negm (left) and Sheikh Mazhar Shahin (right). (Photo: Internet)

As recent events have shown, Egyptian personalities that have become symbols of the Egyptian revolution are now becoming targets for legal prosecution. So far, at least five prominent revolutionary figures have been formally charged with crimes in cases linked to recent escalations between anti-government protesters and security forces.

Prominent blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah (@alaa on Twitter) was among the first to have his name included among the accused. Abdel-Fattah was detained pending investigation after a journalist for Al-Wafd newspaper, Hanan Khawasek, claimed in a recent article to have seen the blogger inciting the violent clashes that took place in Cairo’s Maspero district on 9 November.

The clashes, which left 27 dead and hundreds injured following a protest march by Coptic-Christian demonstrators, represented one of the most violent episodes seen in Egypt since last year’s revolution – and one for which Abdel-Fattah vocally criticised Egypt’s ruling military council. While videos circulating on social-media forums showed military vehicles running over protesters, military spokesmen claimed that a “third party” had incited the clashes.

Being a well known blogger and revolutionary activist, Abdel-Fattah’s detention by the military triggered an uproar among Egypt’s activist community. Numerous demonstrations were organised as a response, while a “Free Alaa” campaign – similar to that launched after his first arrest under the Mubarak regime – garnered considerable support. Although Abdel-Fattah has since been transferred to a civil court instead of a military one, he is still accused of stealing weapons from the military, attacking military personnel, destroying military property and inciting violence against military personnel during the Maspero clashes.

Abdel-Fattah, however, is not the only well-known revolutionary figure to face such charges. Following last month’s clashes outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo, several other names came up during investigations, including Mamdouh Hamza, known for his financial support for revolutionary youth groups and Tahrir Square activism; presidential hopeful Ayman Nour, a long-time critic of the Mubarak regime; Nawara Negm, prominent columnist and blogger; and Mazhar Shaheen, a sheikh at the Omar Makram Mosque (adjacent to Tahrir Square) popularly known as the “Tahrir preacher.”

On Saturday, prosecutors investigating last month’s violence outside the Cabinet building announced plans to summon Hamza and Nour for questioning on Tuesday. The decision was made after their names came up during investigations as possible instigators of the clashes and the burning of public buildings, including the historic Scientific Institute, located nearby.

One day later, Negm’s and Shaheen’s names also came up during investigations, with judges reportedly receiving complaints that both activists – along with rights lawyer Taher El-Kholy – had taken part in “inciting peaceful protesters to clash with army forces.”

While Negm and Nour had stated earlier that they had not received official papers stating that they were to be summoned, they confirmed receiving the official summoning late Monday evening.  

Nour, for his part, who believes he is being targeted for filing a legal complaint against the ruling military council on 19 December, insisted that those arrested during the Cabinet clashes had been pressured to make such allegations. Nour filed a complaint against army officer Hossam El-Din Mostafa accusing him of forcing those detained during the Cabinet clashes to provide false testimony against other activists.

Shaheen, meanwhile, was also summoned by the Ministry of Religious Endowments on Monday for neglecting to close the Omar Makram Mosque following evening prayers. The mosque where Shaheen works is located next to Tahrir Square and was used by protesters during the recent violence as a makeshift hospital. Shaheen, known for his strong support of the revolution, was also accused by the ministry of misusing the mosque by allowing a presidential candidate to speak there following prayers.

The five activists to have been accused so far are known for their outspoken support for anti-government protesters – from the 18-day uprising that led to Mubarak’s ouster to the recent bout of clashes in November and December. Activists are not the only group to have come under attack lately, journalists also complain of being targeted for exposing military violations, doctors, for their part, also say they’re being targeted for treating protesters.

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