2 November, 2011
Yesterday, an internationally renowned Egyptian blogger and activist, Alaa Abd El Fattah, wrote a secret letter from prison to the Guardian and an Egyptian paper. “I never expected to repeat the experience of five years ago,” he writes, “after a revolution that deposed the tyrant, I go back to his jails?”
Alaa had been arrested in 2006 by Mubarak’s state security for his political views, this time it was by the military.
During the last week, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), who took power after Mubarak stepped down, have been increasingly flexing their muscles. Egypt’s historic elections are due in the next three weeks but it seems that the revolution is not done.
Back in January the Egyptian people took to the streets in the name of Khaled Said, to call for economic reforms and the end to emergency law, police brutality, corruption and the regime. “Bread, freedom, social justice” and “Down, down with Hosni Mubarak” were the chants that roared through Tahrir.
Fast-forward nine months, to the past seven days. On Friday, the people protested in the name of Essam Atta, another young man who was allegedly tortured to death by military police (he received the same autopsy report as Khaled Said: a drug overdose). Friday also saw marches for the twenty-seven protesters killed by the army at Maspero on 9 October.
On Sunday, Alaa was detained by the military for supposedly ‘stealing military weapons’ and ‘inciting violence’ at Maspero, just days after he spoke at Occupy Oakland in America. Today is Maikel Nabil’s 73rd day of hunger strike – he is an activist who was imprisoned for writing a blog entitled: ‘The people and the army were never one hand’.
The chants on Tahrir? “Bread, freedom, social justice” and “Down down with the military regime”. And, of course, emergency law is still in place.
For us in the UK, the Egyptian revolution lasted for 18 nail-biting days and finished with jubilant scenes in Tahrir on 11 February.
For those here in Egypt, 11 February was only the beginning of months of often-bloody battles, in which activists have repeatedly called for the same reforms as they did in January.
The only change is the protesters are now fighting a military junta rather than Mubarak’s regime.
A week ago, the two police officers who beat Khaled Said to death were sentenced to seven years in prison. A protester is currently ‘serving a seven year sentence for throwing a stone at a protest,’ Sherif Zeinhom, an activist who was released from the same prison the day before yesterday, tells me.
The difference is that the Khaled Said’s killers were tried in a civilian court and so both had lawyers, the protesters, like Sherif, face military trials.
Since 28 January, over 12,000 Egyptian civilians have been tried at military courts often for dubious reasons and without access to a lawyer, the ability to bring or examine witnesses or the ability to review evidence against them (Human Rights Watch).
Of the 12,000, over 8,000 people have been sentenced, with 18 reportedly sentenced to death (General Adel Morsy, head of the military court).
The only reason Sherif’s case was made public (which ultimately lead to his release) was because of No To Military Trials for Civilians, a campaign headed up by activist Mona Seif, sister of the detained blogger, Alaa.
However, no one has access to all 8,000 names of those incarcerated. There are thousands of civilians serving (often lengthy) prison sentences with no legal support or way of appealing.
Sherif described the violent arrest he was subjected to: “There were thugs inside the security office, the army could see them. I was lying on the floor being beaten by these thugs who had weapons. When I complained to the Naqib (captain)… he just put his foot on my face”. The army have, on multiple occasions, been seen colluding with the baltagiya.
With thousands in prison for fabricated and trumped up offensives, Alaa puts it drily in his letter: “We can congratulate ourselves on the return of security”.
It is the events at Maspero that truly illustrate the increasing tenacity of the army. Photographs and video footage show army APCs mowing down protesters and corpses with live ammunition bullet holes. Eyewitnesses say the army were shooting indiscriminately into the crowds.
In face of this overwhelming evidence the army flatly denied responsibility and instead, in the last week, have accused protesters of inciting the violence and attacking themselves. On the list of the accused is Alaa as well as, perversely, Mina Danial, a Christian protester who was killed by the army that night. SCAF will, apparently, put a dead man on trial.
What SCAF’s motives are is unclear. Some activists believe that they will use the increasing unrest to delay the elections again, in order to give them more time to galvanise their status quo. Others believe they are simply testing the water to see how far they can go.
Whatever the reasons, the Arab Spring revolutions should take note. A revolution is not over until all the demands have been met.
With the parliamentary elections on the horizon and the presidential elections early next year, much is at stake for the Egyptian people. Nevertheless the push for change here, however complicated and divided, is still strong and increasingly galvanised by the continued abuse from the military. SCAF have unwittingly picked an international fight by incarcerating Alaa, as typified by the British media’s reaction, the OccupyLSX protest on Saturday and yesterday’s Guardian letter. If the military think they can silence the protesters, they are underestimating their stamina and determination. Because, as Sherif puts it, ‘Horaya helwa’: Freedom is beautiful.