To you at whose side we struggle,
On November 26, 2013, we saw the first implementation of a new Egyptian law effectively banning any and all protest not approved and regulated by the Ministry of Interior. This is the same Interior Ministry whose soldiers have killed thousands of protesters, maimed tens of thousands and tortured unknown others in recent years. This security apparatus is acting with renewed arrogance since the July coup that returned the Egyptian Army to a position of direct authority.
Around noon on November 26, riot police attacked a protest commemorating the murder of Gaber “Gika” Salah one year ago. Announcing that the protest was illegal, police fired water cannons and then baton-charged demonstrators, arresting several. Hours later, the “No Military Trials for Civilians” campaign organized a protest against the new anti-protest law as well as the inclusion of military trials for civilians in the constitution currently being drafted. This time, the police beat and arrested dozens, among them some of Egypt’s most renowned activists, the same people who fought the injustice and oppression of Mubarak, the SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood, and now Abdel Fattah al Sisi and the puppet civilian government in place since the coup.
The public outrage that followed the release of footage of the police beating and sexually assaulting some protesters compelled authorities to release all female protesters as well as lawyers, journalists and a handful of prominent male detainees, while keeping 24 male protesters in detention. Protesters demonstrating against the same illegitimate law elsewhere across the country likewise remain in custody. The events of the past week make it clear that the so-called justice system in Egypt, and the anti-protest law in particular, seek little more than the suppression of any form of political activity or protest.
The demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists provides the cover to crack down on dissent of any kind, including the continued calls for the revolution’s demands. On November 27, six of the released female protesters informed the public prosecutor that they were the ones to call for the protest, which according to the new law would force the prosecutor to re-arrest them. The prosecutor ignored their claims, while extending the detention of the 24 male protesters, who have undergone continuous torture, by another 15 days. In the court, the detainees disrupted proceedings by chanting “down with military rule”, and have started a hunger strike.
On November 28, the repression continued as the police surrounded a student protest in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo University. After preventing anyone from leaving the premises the police forces fired tear gas, buck shot and live ammunition at the demonstrators and other students inside. The body of Mohamed Reda reached the morgue later that night, with gunshot wounds. His friends claim he was neither politically active nor participating in the protest. The court in turn charged other students arrested in the protest with his murder. Hours later, the police stormed Alaa Abdel Fattah’s home without a search warrant, beat him and his wife and kidnapped him; all this for charges of organizing the protest on the 26th. The following morning the prosecution questioned him at the Cairo Security Directorate and extended his detention to four days pending investigation.
The protest law, draconian and kafkaesque in its very essence, is not the first time that laws effectively criminalizing protest have been passed since 2011. The army and the Muslim Brotherhood both attempted and failed to pass and enforce such laws. This new one comes under the trappings of the rule of law, supposedly free of political weight, but its intention is clear: to crush dissent and further empower the police to use violence and lethal force. Egyptian lawmakers even have the gall to use oppression abroad to justify a crackdown at home.
This is not a call to reform the protest law. This is a rejection of all such laws and the system behind the law — a system that is merely a new face to the one we confronted on January 25, 2011. Following the military’s coup on July 3, the army’s head of command appointed a government that is made up of liberals, retired police and military generals as well as a few individuals considered participants in the January 25 revolution. In their attempt to outlaw any opposition on the street, the role of the liberals and deemed “revolutionaries” is to whitewash the violence of the security regime. These figures are the handmaidens of the attempt to re-create a pre-January 25 Egypt where the regime’s murder and torture becomes the norm. It is their role to prevent outrage on the street. The justification for the return to this pre-January 25 state of normalcy is the fighting of “terror” and the need to impose “stability” and “order”.
We will not protest at the whim and convenience of a counterrevolutionary regime and its armed enforcers. After the generals’ latest attempt to co-opt the revolution by kidnapping the June 30 protests for their own desire for power, the January 25 Revolution has returned to the streets. We will oppose the system everywhere we can. Stand by our side. This system must fall.