Tuesday's arrests reveal divisions in power: Analysts

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 27 Nov 2013

The new protest law has created a rift among the supporters of Egypt's current interim government

Egyptian activists protest in Talaat Harb Square in Downtown, Cairo, Tuesday, (Photo: AP).
The Egyptian police tried for the first time on Tuesday to implement a controversial law on protests which was issued by the president earlier this week.
The result -- the arrest of dozens of protesters in downtown Cairo -- triggered a backlash from political groups and figures close to the government, showing a serious rift among supporters of the interim authorities for the first time since the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi this summer.
The arrests were met with instant condemnation from the major parties who have been supporting the authorities since July, when the army stepped in to remove Morsi after mass protests calling on him to step down.
Security forces have been cracking down on Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in recent months, with hundreds of protesters killed or arrested during the dispersal of pro-Morsi demonstrations.
Many of the activists detained by police on Tuesday, however, were members of parties in power or allied with the government.
The new law gives the interior ministry the power to ban unauthorised public gatherings and imposes harsh penalties on violators.
Despite Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi -- a senior member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP) -- passing the law, his party opposed the legislation and declared that some of the detained activists were members of the party. 
Party representatives has said the party will continue demonstrating against the law.
Leading member of the ESDP Ziad El-Eleimi told authorities on Tuesday that he had called for the protest without the interior ministry's permission, a move taken by him and other activists to challenge the law.
"There are disagreements within the ESDP itself and within the government about the law," political activist Mohamed Waked – who challenged the law along with El-Eleimi - told Ahram Online, saying that Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din, who is also deputy head of the ESDP, had long been opposed to the law.
Indeed, Bahaa El-Din had announced in October that political and rights groups he met with had said that a repressive protest law would not be publicly accepted and that it was best to wait until a parliament was elected to issue one.
Waked said that other people within the administration, such as presidential advisor Mostafa Hegazy, are defending the law.
He believes Hegazy represents a group in power that wants to use the law to suppress those opposed to its plans to seek power at the next elections.
Sources in the government told Ahram Online that a proposition is being discussed that the law be suspended until a wider discussion on it is carried out and a guarantee is given by the government that the law not be used to quell freedom of expression.
It is not clear whether this guarantee would include amending the law, but Minister of Higher Education Hossam Eissa, a former member of the liberal Constitution Party, said Wednesday that the law isn't as stringent as it is made to look by its opponents and that the government is insistent on implementing it.
Agreeing with Waked, political analyst Mohamed El-Agati said the law and Tuesday's events impacted current power alliances and brought some contradictions to light.
"The rejection of the law will show who in the government will respond to demands by democratic forces to withdraw it, and who is merely seeking power," he said.
He told Ahram Online that despite the government's National Council for Human Rights and its Committee to Protect the Democratic Path having opposed the law, it was passed anyway.
Emad Gad, a senior member of the ESDP, said that previous meetings with the government and rights groups and councils resulted in 16 recommended changes to the then-draft law, only one of which was adopted by the government.
Many figures and groups that had supported the current authorities came out strongly against the law and Tuesday’s arrests, such as leftist former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, the Egyptian Popular Current movement he founded and the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement which was at the forefront of the summer’s anti-Morsi protests.
Two major liberal and leftist parties who are allied with the government -- the Constitution Party and the leftist Socialist Popular Alliance Party -- demanded the release of the protesters detained on Tuesday and the withdrawal of the law.
To complicate matters further, the constitution-amending committee briefly halted its work after a number of members threatened to step down in objection to the arrest of the protesters. Committee member director Khaled Youssef described the decision to pass the law at the current time as "politically stupid."
The committee resumed work on Wednesday, despite member Diaa Rashwan saying the committee would suspend work until all arrested protesters were freed.
Twenty-four protesters remain in custody, although dozens of others were released late on Tuesday.
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