Egypt's security forces, activists clash as protest law takes effect

Tony Gamal Gabriel, Mostafa Ali , Tuesday 26 Nov 2013

Tens of activists arrested Tuesday following dispersal of downtown protest against military trials for civilians, after implementation of new protest law

Protesters set fire in Cairo's downtown near Tahrir Square as clashes with security forces erupted following the dispersal of a protest against military trials for civilians (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Police forces dispersed another Tuesday protest in Cairo's downtown 30 minutes after it commenced, arresting tens of activists following the use of water cannons and teargas, two days after a new controversial protest law was issued.

Activists Mona Seif and Salma Saed were among those arrested, after staging a protest outside the Shura Council against a constitutional article that allows military courts to try civilians.

According to Ahram Online's reporter, police forces used water cannons and then teargas to disperse the rally in a few minutes. 

The Interior Ministry announced that police arrested 52 protesters, before saying later in a statement they had arrested 28 "rioters" and filed a complaint against them. 

The ministry also justified the dispersal, saying the gathering broke a newly enforced protest law as the organisers did not notify authorities of their actions. They have accused protesters of blocking a main road in front of the Shura council and said they hurled stones at security forces.

At around 6:15, dozens of protesters gathered once again in Talaat Harb square to protest the police's dispersal of the anti-military trial demo outside the Shura Council. Police fired teargas to disperse them, deploying armored vehicles in the square, according to an Ahram Online reporter.  

The armoured vehicles emerged from the direction of Tahrir. Protesters started breaking stones in anticipation of a battle. However, they ran away without throwing stones at the police, as the latter fired teargas and birdshot at the group. 

Following the attack, protesters re-grouped on nearby Sabri Abu-Allam Street, increasing to hundreds and setting tires alight in the middle of the street.

At about 6:45, police vehicles disappeared from the perimeters of Talaat Harb square and some four hundred protesters reoccupied the area. They chanted, "the Ministry of Interior are thugs," as well as other radical Ultras songs.

After a couple of hours of calm, the police once again returned to Talaat Harb Square to forcibly disperse hundreds of protesters, who they chased away after bombarding them with teargas. Ahram Online's reporter also says they fired birdshot.

Protests outside Shura Council: 'Unfair trials'

Outside the Shura council earlier, protesters chanted against the Ministry of Interior and called for the withdrawal of the police forces and vehicles. They held yellow placards, on which was written, "I am against the military trial of civilians."

The head of the 50-member committee amending the constitution, Amr Moussa, contacted Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, calling for the release of detained protesters, according to Al-Ahram's Arabic news website. At least ten members of the panel announced the suspension of their membership until their release, according to the same source.
Human rights lawyer Malek Adly announced on his Twitter account that he, among other human rights lawyers and activists, handed themselves over to the general-prosecutor as the organisers of the protest.

He later told private TV channel CBC that several female protesters were sexually harassed by security forces during the dispersal, an account that was confirmed by human rights activist Ghada Shahbender.

Founding member of the 'No to military trials for civilians' group, Mohamed Fouda, told Ahram Online his movement organised the protest to denounce the preliminary vote last week in favour of a constitutional article allowing military courts to try civilians.

Thirty members of the constitutional committee voted in favour of the article, seven against, with two abstentions. The remaining 11 were absent.

The text of the article refers to direct attacks on military premises, camps, properties and factories; attacks on military zones and border areas, and attacks on military vehicles or personnel while they are carrying out their duties. Crimes related to military documents, secrets or funds are also included in the article.

"Most democratic countries don't have military trials for civilians, except sometimes in times of war," Mohamed Fouda said.

"Military trials are not independent," Fouda said. "They do not respect the minimum requirements for fair trials," he added. "For instance, a high ranked military officer who is not part of the judging panel can change the ruling, or cancel it."

'Right to protest'

Protesters also denounced a controversial protest law enforced Sunday, which allows security forces to disperse protests if they are not authorised by the Interior Ministry. "Protesting is our right; no to your law," protesters chanted.

Particularly controversial articles include requiring protest organisers to notify authorities three days in advance of a protest's demands and imposing heavy jail terms and fines on individuals who break the law.

Twenty-seven year old chemist Hassan Kamal said he was present to protest against the military trial of civilians and to break the recently enforced protest law.

"It is our right, our freedom to protest," Kamal said. "They want to oppress the 25 January revolution," he added. "But we will continue to protest until we take the martyrs' rights and get our freedom and social justice."

Protesters chanted "the military trial is against the civil state," and "delete the article from the constitution; let our country see the light."

Yehia Fekry, a founding member of the 'Revolutionary Path Front' also criticised the newly issued protest law, widely seen by its supporters as a way to stabilise the country.

"No stability will be realised without freedom and democracy," Fekry said. "Nothing creates instability but the attempt to set a new military dictatorship," he added.

An earlier protest against the new anti-protest law was similarly dispersed on Tuesday. The demonstration was led by the Martyr Gaber Salah Movement, a group named after 16-year old activist Gaber Salah ("Jika"), who was killed in clashes with security forces in November 2012.

Several groups called for protests on Tuesday in defiance of the controversial protest law approved by interim president Adly Mansour on Sunday.

The law was slammed by numerous political groups as "repressive."

Egypt's interim Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawy agreed to form a new committee to discuss the controversial articles of the protest law, after meeting with members of the National Salvation Front, an umbrella group of political forces. He also promised to follow up on prosecution investigations in order to release the detained protesters.

April 6 youth group founding member Ahmed Maher told Ahram Online the police interventions were not justified. "Protesters were peaceful. This morning we were on the marches of the Journalist union, and they dispersed us. Even Mubarak would let us do that."

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