Smashing Dissent in Egypt
A crackdown on the Egyptian opposition continues its second day with the warrant for the arrest of 19 activists including every single Kefayah leader (the Egyptian secular opposition group), and three of Egypt's most prominent bloggers: Wael Abbas, Mohamed Sharqawi, and Alaa seif el-Islam.
The charges they are being accused of include:
1) "Instigating against the constitutional reforms."
2) "Engaging in a demonstration of more than 5 people, which leads to the disruption of traffic and endangering public safety."
3) "Broadcasting insidious claims and news that could lead to civil unrest and hurt the public welfare."
Those are apparently actual crimes in Egypt, and more than 21 people were arrested for them yesterday.
The charge against the 21 arrested was for engaging in a public demonstration against the newly proposed Egyptian constitutional reforms. These "reforms" were proposed and approved by the ruling party-the NDP- and opposed by every other opposition group and party in Egypt.
The most controversial of these amendments to the Egyptian constitution is the one concerning the new terrorism law. This is basically the much despised and criticized emergency law that Egypt has been living under for the past 27 years updated with a different name.
The law now gives the government and the security authorities unchecked powers. Among these are the power to arrest and detain Egyptians indefinitely, without charges, based on suspicion of terrorism. The addition of this law to the Egyptian constitution effectively nullifies every Egyptian citizen's constitutional civil rights. It also ensures that the government will continue to oppress its opposition and its people and arrest any critic of its policies. The protest yesterday was the first protest against those constitutional amendments. It was smashed by the police, who beat up and arrested about 35 demonstrators. Fourteen have since been released, which leaves 21 still in custody. Then there are the other 19 previously mentioned, who have not been arrested yet.
The protesters yesterday were shocked by the incredibly large turnout in state security soldiers. They came to the demonstration in the thousands, a number not seen since 2003, before the Egyptian "democratic reforms" of 2005.
The State Security forces were everywhere. Almost 20 trucks loaded with soldiers were counted at the scene as well. At first the SS forces separated the demonstrators at Talaat Harb square from those in Tahrir square, and then proceeded to beat up and harass the protesters at Talaat Harb corralling the majority of them in a dead-end alley. They then arrested and beat up anyone who tried to escape the area. Those arrested were taken to the El Daher police station, where 14 were released without charges and 21 spent the night. Their lawyers were not allowed access to them until this morning. It was those same lawyers who found out about the other wanted 19.
Legally speaking, the warrant for those 19 activists arrest is ceremonial, since in order to get indicted on those crimes you need to be caught in the act, and they weren't. However, those same charges would legally prevent them from demonstrating ever again. If they do they will be detained immediately on the outstanding warrants. Simply being in a demonstration would be the legal excuse necessary for their arrest.
The message the regime is sending is clear: We don't want any protests or public opposition until after the constitutional referendum needed for the approval for our constitutional amendments is over.
These arrests are not the only blows to freedom of speech in Egypt: Just last week the appeal for the detained Egyptian blogger Abdel Karim Soliman got rejected, and a lawsuit demanding the shut down of 21 more websites and blogs has been filed. Freedom of speech, for the lack of a better expression, is dying in Egypt.
* Sandmonkey is a pseudonymous blogger living in Egypt. He is the author of the blog Rantings of a Sandmonkey