Activist Alaa Abd El Fattah one of at least 27 people currently charged under Egypt’s new anti-protest law
Egypt is facing a growing crackdown on political protest and dissent under the cover of a new law designed to effectively ban protest in Egypt.
On November 26th the well-known and internationally respected activist group, No to Military Trials for Civilians, called for a demonstration in front of the Shoura Council (the Upper House of the Egyptian parliament) to protest the failure of the current draft constitution to legislate against the military court martialing of civilians. The, entirely peaceful, protest was met with serious force by the police, who attacked demonstrators with a water canon and tear gas while arresting as many people as they could. At least 51 people were arrested that day. Several were beaten and sexually harassed in detention.
The female protestors, when arrested, were also beaten and some were sexually harassed. After several hours inside Police Station #1 in New Cairo they were informed they would be released. When they refused to leave custody without the men they were beaten again, forced into a police truck, driven out to the desert and left there. They were not charged.
Warrants for the arrests of Alaa Abd El Fattah and Ahmed Maher - both well known activists - were issued later that day for the incitement and organisation of the protest.It is well known that neither Abd El Fattah or Maher are among the organisers of the No to Military Trials group. And although Abd El Fattah publicly stated that he would turn himself in, and notified the prosecutor general of his intention to do so through official channels, the police chose to violently raid his home instead. At around 10pm on November 28th an assault team arrived at his house, some wearing plainclothes. They had no search warrant and when his wife, Manal, demanded to see one they were both beaten. They took their computers and their telephones. Their two year old son, Khaled, was asleep in the next room. Once arrested he was left to spend the night on the floor of a cell, blindfolded with his hands cuffed behind his back. Maher turned himself on Saturday November 30th, was released the following day, then re-arrested.
On December 1st Alaa Abd El Fattah’s detention was extended.
On December 3rd Ahmed Douma, another well known activist, was arrested from his home, also for the Abdeen protest.
On December 4th, 23 of the initial detainees were released on bail. Ahmed Abdelrahman was not [see Notes below]. Alaa Abd El Fattah’s detention was extended at a separate hearing, and so he too remains in jail. Maher is facing four days of investigation for a separate protest that took place outside Abdeen Courthouse.
The arbitrary nature of the arrests is made clear by the well-known fact that neither Abd El Fattah nor Maher were organisers of the protest in question. It was called for by the No to Military Trials for Civilians group, who have publicly taken responsibility for its organisation. The leading members of No to Military Trials are well known in Egypt, and are certainly known by the police. This move by the interior ministry is attempting to set a precedent which allows for anyone to be arrested on the accusation of organising a protest.
Egyptian activists have shown clearly that they will resist the oppressive new anti-protest law. Two protests were held the day after it came into effect - November 26th - and a third - on November 27th - saw thousands of people march through Downtown Cairo and to the gates of Parliament Street. Similar protests held in five cities across the country, including Suez and Alexandria, were held in defiance of the law and were also attacked. A protest at Cairo University, on the 28th of November, was attacked by the police, breaking the gates of the university with tear gas and shotguns. At least one student - Mohamed Reda - was killed. Meanwhile, in Alexandria 14 young, female supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were sentenced to 11 years in prison for participating in a political protest. A protest held outside the Abdeen Courthouse on Saturday November 30th was violently broken up by the police with tear gas and shotguns.
Note that even under the new protest law, the violence with which the protests were dispersed was illegal.