Activists Are Next On The Egypt Hit List


They ousted Morsi and arrested his supporters, then they detained the workers, and now they're coming for the activists.

In the past two months Egypt has left the heady days of 2011 behind and returned to the stifling atmosphere of emergency rule, as worker strikes are shut down, activists arrested on flimsy charges, and journalists tried in military courts.

It's worth wondering who will come next, but even experienced activists are unwilling to take a guess at which target Egypt's new regime may charge at next.

What they are certain of is that the interim government is trying to silence the voices at the core of the 2011 revolution.

Journalist and activist Wael Abbas was one of those included on a list released, then quickly retracted, by the government in early September. It named 35 people to be investigated for allegedly receiving money from the United States and other countries.

He told New Matilda that the list was part of a campaign of intimidation against activists and a way for the government to test the public appetite for a wider crackdown.

"They need the public to only hear one voice … and to do that they need to violate many rights and freedoms," Abbas said. "It's worse than [under]Mubarak."

That "voice" includes neither activists nor the labour movement, the latter also being a core pillar of the 2011 revolution.

Recent military interventions suggest the interim government is trying to prevent worker strikes from regaining popular support.

A textiles factory protest in the city of Mahalla, the heartland of organised Egyptian labour, faced being shut down by the military and last month a strike at Suez Steel was broken up by the armed forces, with at least two workers arrested for "incitement" and others threatened.

A protester in Cairo with a sign that reads: "we will not be ruled by killers" referring to General Sisi and the army. Photo by Rachel Williamson.

Arbitrary detentions of activists include that of prominent human rights lawyer and Revolutionary Socialist activist Haitham Mohamedein.

He was arrested on 5 September as he travelled to Suez to give meet with the workers at Suez Steel, who've hired him as their lawyer.

Intially the reports suggested Mohamedein was arrested for verbally abusing soldiers and refusing to allow them to search his car. It was later revealed not only that he doesn't own a car, but he was individually picked off the bus he was travelling in.

"The authorities later stated that they were investigating his possession of papers that "threatened national security"," Dublin-based NGO Frontline Defenders said in a statement. They said the papers were client files.

The organisation noted with concern the involvement of the National Security service, the current incarnation of the State Security Intelligence which was notorious for targeting human rights activists.

The charges against Mohamedein include being a member of a secret group with the aim of impeding the state's authority, intent to "incite and empower a certain class" against the rest of society, and to disrupt "societal peace".

Over in Sinai, award-winning freelance journalist and government critic Ahmad Abu Draa was arrested on 4 September. He is being tried in a closed military court in Ismailia that, to begin with, even his lawyers were not allowed to enter.

Draa was accused of reporting false information about army operations and being inside a restricted military zone after writing on Facebook that Sinai air strikes on militants were hitting civilian areas and that statements from military officials were not telling the whole truth.

And in the city of Suez on 17 September, four civilians were convicted by a military tribunal for breaking the curfew. They were sentenced to prison terms of between two to three years in a high security prison.

This disingenuousness around activist arrests prompted Wael Abbas to compare the Mubarak regime favourably with the interim government.

He said Mubarak at least attempted a veneer of legality when having activists arrested. The current leaders of the country were ignorant of the law and were trying to justify their actions by using the "war on terror" argument.

"These guys running the country are not that smart … the military is stupid."

Abbas said the message the armed forces/interim government wanted people to hear and rally behind was that of the "war on terrorism", not higher wages or civil liberties.

The "war on terrorism" has entailed military trials for cilivians; a return to state of emergency conditions for 14 provinces, and extended, along with the 11pm-to-6am curfew, for another two months until mid-November; air and land strikes in north Sinai; and a crackdown on anyone who might provoke wider questions about why the military is back in charge again.

So far, it is being accepted by the general population.

Returning home late one evening, a taxi driver was happy to agree the post-curfew checkpoints manned by coldly aggressive soldiers were inconvenient, but hastily followed with, "it's good, they are protecting us from terrorists. We need this."

Be that a genuine sentiment or said out of fear, the stats show it's safer to err on the side of caution these days.

The Front to Defend Egypt Protestors (FDEP) has released figures showing political arrests surging in the months since the July 3 military intervention, with over 3,000 people detained in Cairo alone.

Many of these occurred during clashes between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and security forces, including 718 people arrested in July, and 1245 arrested on 14 August, the day of the sit-in dispersals. Two days later another 654 people were arrested during the Ramses Square firefight and subsequent siege of Al Fatah mosque.

No one is prepared to try and tell the future for notoriously unpredictable Egypt, but Revolutionary Socialist Tarek Shalaby does expect two things: more arrests and more protests.

He told New Matilda that the current crackdowns were expected but, "on the bright side", they had forced people to see that it was General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ruling and not interim prime minister Hazzem Al-Beblawi.

"We're not surprised about anything that's happened…what else were you expecting after the crackdown on 3 July [when Morsi was ousted]?" Shalaby said. "But now it's becoming clear that it’s Sisi against the Islamists."

He said it was difficult to guess what would happen in the next few months, but listed a few things he thought were certainties:

The US$18 billion of donations from the Gulf won't keep prices or inflation down, a key cause of the revolution; the crackdown on workers will drive a wedge between the people and the army, killing the slogan that the "people and the army are one hand"; and activists would overcome the shock of 3 July and "get cracking" again soon, possibly uniting under RevSoc's platform against the "three evils": Mubarak-era remnants or "felool", the Muslim Brotherhood, and SCAF, the armed forces.

Abbas couched it in blunter terms: "I have absolutely no idea [what will happen], things change dramatically and fast in Egypt."

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.