In wake of arrests, Egypt's 2011 revolutionaries fear new witch hunt

Zeinab El Gundy , Sunday 5 Jan 2014

Recent trials of non-Islamist protesters have created fear and shock, with some arguing that the former regime is targeting the revolutionaries who attempted to bring it down

Egyptian police fire water cannons to disperse a protest in Cairo by secular anti-government activists denouncing military trials for civilians, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013 (Photo: AP)

On 22 December 2013, a Cairo court sentenced political activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma to three years in prison on charges of organising unauthorised protests and attacking security forces.

It was just the start. On 2 January, an Alexandrian court sentenced two other activists, Mahinour El-Masry and Hassan Mostafa, to two years in prison on charges of organising unauthorised protests and attacking security forces at a protest.

Two days later, on Saturday, the prosecutor-general ordered an investigation into the storming of the state security headquarters in March 2011. The building was broken into by young pro-revolution activists who had participated in the protests in January and February which led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. At the time, the act was hailed by the media as a mark of the fall of the police state. 

The verdicts and the ordered investigation caused shock among the circles of the young activists who, like those jailed, had taken part in the 2011 revolution.  

Thousands of Islamist protesters have been arrested, and hundreds killed in violent clashes, since the July ouster of unpopular Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after mass protests against him.

But the arrests of prominent secular protest figures, most of whom had supported Morsi's ouster, was seen by some as an escalation against the 2011 revolution by a repressive regime that they argue still holds power.

Moments after knowing the verdict, angry tweets, Facebook posts and statements begin to spread condemning the verdict.

“What is the relation between the war on terrorism and the repression of the revolutionary youth?" wrote novelist and liberal Alaa El-Aswany on his official Facebook page in the days after the verdict.

"Remnants of the Mubarak regime, if you want to kill the revolution then lock up the millions of Egyptians that made it. Lock up even Egypt if you can, but our revolution will continue and will succeed, with God’s will,” he wrote.  

Maher, Adel and Douma are not the only secular activists behind bars. Other prominent activists facing potential prison sentences include blogger Alaa Abdel-Fatah, and Alexandria-based activists Mahinour El-Masry and Hassan Mostafa. All are charged with breaking a new law that forbids protests without prior police notification.

Other non-Islamists, including lesser-known figures from the April 6 Youth Movement, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Constitution Party and the Strong Egypt Party have been arrested at recent protests around the country.

Several judges who played role in the judicial protest movement in Egypt since 2005, including Zakaria Abdel-Aziz and Mahmoud El-Khodairy, are currently facing charges of being members of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood judges group.

El-Khodairy is also facing criminal charges of allegedly torturing a man in Tahrir Square on 3 February 2011, after the infamous Battle of the Camel incident when the Mubarak regime sent armed thugs to attack protesters.

The action against the 2011 revolutionary activists was triggered by a controversial new protest law, which applies major restrictions to protesting and political assembly, two major gains of the 2011 revolution. Many of the activists who are now on trial had taken to the streets to protest these new restrictions, and have subsequently been charged with violating the new laws.  

“The protest law is a witch hunt against the 25 January [2011] revolutionary activists,” Mohamed Adel told Ahram Online in November, days before his arrest.

“In reality, the protest law is made to hunt down the revolutionary activists, not Muslim Brotherhood supporters as is being claimed in the media. The Brotherhood protests are not dispersed in the same way as our protests,” said Adel, who added that the Muslim Brotherhood protesters and supporters were not standing trial like the revolutionary protesters.

“We have members in the April 6 Youth Movement who have been arrested all over the country just for putting up posters against the protest law,” Adel said.

In an April 6 statement issued before the court ruling, the group, which played a major role in the 2011 revolution, said that the ruling of the court would be political, and warned of further escalation by the movement against “the return of the police state and oppressive policies in Egypt."

After the court ruling, which sentenced two of the group's founding members, Maher and Adel, to jail terms, the group withdrew its support for the transitional roadmap put in place after the ouster of Morsi.

“What is pursued by the current regime is a coup against the January 25 revolution and its goals,” said the current coordinator of April 6 Youth Movement, Amr Ali.

Other political groups agree that secular revolutionaries are being targeted.

“After the fierce campaign led by the Mubarak regime's media and its strategic analysts against the 25 January revolution and its icons from different political currents, the regime moved to phase two -- actual vengeance against all the opposition youth icons who refused to be part of the current repressive regime,” said a statement issued by the Strong Egypt Party in December.

But the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, a liberal-leaning grouping which has provided several key cabinet ministers including prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi, has denied that a witch hunt is taking place.

“The 30 June [protests against Morsi] was not a coup against 25 January; it completes and corrects the path of the 25 January revolution," Emad Gad, the vice president of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told Ahram Online.

“We are in a battle against terrorism and although I have my own objections regarding the protest law, especially how it deals with peaceful protests and assembly, it was not a good idea to defy the law or the state now,” Gad said, referring to the activists arrested for protesting against the new law.

Other commentators blame the Muslim Brotherhood for the situation.

“There was no need for the protest law. Criminal law was enough to deal with any criminal violations at protests,” Ayman El-Sayyad, a journalist and political analyst, told Ahram Online.

“Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood protests and their unreasonable demands gave an opportunity to weaken the voices against the protest law,” he said.

Revolutionary movements are under continuous attack in the media, with the April 6 Youth Movement being described in some media as the "civilian branch" of the Muslim Brotherhood, or accused of being foreign spies.

On the same day that Adel and were sentenced to three years in jail, Al-Qahira Wal-Nas TV channel aired what it claimed to be phone calls between Adel and Maher talking about foreign funding.

The channel has continued to air private phone calls of revolutionary activists, including Ahmed Eid, Abdel-Rahman Youssef, Mostafa El-Naggar and Asmaa Mahfouz.

The phone calls are used to build a case that the activists were participating in a regional plot to bring down the state, which led to the 25 January revolution.

“It is not about arrests now; it is about a systematic defamation of the whole 25 January revolution itself. Just look at what is being said on TV channels -- ideas that the wholesome 25 January revolution is good but those who made it are bad,” Ahmed Emam, the official spokesperson of the Strong Egypt Party told Ahram Online, adding that he expected that soon the 25 January revolution would be portrayed as completely negative and as a foreign conspiracy by the media.

Strong Egypt Party and its founder Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh are attacked on a daily basis. Abul-Fotouh, a former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood who left the group in 2011, is often described as a sleeper Brotherhood agent.

"Do not get me wrong, we participated in 30 June [ouster of Morsi] and we are proud of this participation. But I am afraid it was hijacked by the Mubarak regime in order to restore the repressive police state," Emam said.


Short link: