Egypt detains nine activists on anniversary of fatal protests

Published November 22nd, 2015 - 10:00 GMT

Prosecutors ordered the detention of nine people on Saturday for four days pending investigation on accusations of "illegal assembly" and "protesting without a permit," while commemorating the fourth anniversary of deadly protests in an iconic Downtown Cairo street.

Fatal clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street four years ago in the tumultuous aftermath of the January 2011 uprising, became known as the Mohamed Mahmoud events, a heart-rending memory for many young Egyptians whose dreams for real change were swiftly being dashed.

Today, the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street are an open gallery showcasing graffiti of the faces of those killed in the protests, pointing the finger of blame on all those who took power in the past five years.

Ahmed Hefny, the prosecutor at Cairo's Qasr al-Nil neighbourhood told Aswat Masriya that the detainees are accused of disrupting traffic, assembling, disseminating leaflets and protesting without a permit.

Egypt's latest protest law has been widely criticised by domestic and international human rights organisations which say it violates international standards that allow peaceful protests. But many, mostly youth, have been detained and convicted for violating it since its introduction in November 2013.

Last Thursday, Nov. 19, which coincided with the fourth anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud, participants built a human chain on Six of October bridge, a main artery in Greater Cairo, carrying hand-written signs remembering the victims. One of them read "glory to the martyrs" and another "write on the walls of the cell, imprisoning revolutionaries is a disgrace and a betrayal."  

A third sign called for the release from detention of the April 6 Youth Movement's general coordiantor, Amr Ali who has been in prison since September.

The youth group was once credited for being a significant force behind triggering the 18-day uprising that ousted Egypt's 30-year President Hosni Mubarak, but has since been subjected to a fierce smear campaign before being banned by court order in 2014. Its first leader Ahmed Maher has been jailed for months. 

According to prosecutors, the nine currently in detention belong to April 6. Their crime was organising a protest of 50 people, blocking traffic on the bridge on their way to Cairo's Tahrir Square and carrying "anti-establishment" signs.

On Thursday evening, the movement criticised security forces in an online statement, claiming that they had set up camp in Downtown Cairo near Mohamed Mahmoud Street, carrying "all [kinds of] weapons."

This was to prevent any marches or demonstrations to commemorate the event. By 6:30 pm, the group said seven had been arrested but did not specify whether they belong to the group.

The clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street erupted on November 19, 2011, and continued for five days. Security forces clashed with protesters opposing the transitional rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in violence that left 50 people dead.  

At the time they were the deadliest clashes since the January 2011 uprising. Their significance was accentuated by the proximity of the violence to Egypt's interior ministry headquarters just blocks away.

The protests also marked the growing rift that was starting to show between different groups of protesters, with many criticising the Muslim Brotherhood for abandoning the "revolutionaries" as they were preoccupied with campaigning for parliamentary elections that were held over several months from 2011-2012, in which the Brotherhood snapped up 47 percent of seats in Egypt's then-bicameral People's Assembly.

On the anniversary of Mohamed Mahmoud protests last year, 48 protesters were arrested.

By Hend Kortam


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