Egypt orders arrest of two symbols of anti-Mubarak revolt

Yasmine Saleh
November 27, 2013
A protester holds a flare during a demonstration against a new law restricting demonstrations, in downtown Cairo
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A protester holds a flare during a demonstration against a new law restricting demonstrations, in downtown Cairo November 27, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Two Egyptian pro-democracy campaigners renowned for their role in the popular uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak are to be arrested for inciting protests, a source in the prosecutor's office said on Wednesday.

The arrest orders for Ahmed Maher, head of the April 6 youth movement, and Alaa Abdel Fattah were issued a day after they joined demonstrations outside parliament in defiance of a law passed by the army-backed government on Sunday to curb protests.

Scuffles broke out on Wednesday between protesters and security forces in the northern port city of Alexandria during a demonstration against the new law and against the arrest of 24 activists on Tuesday, the state news agency MENA said.

Rocks were thrown back and forth and security forces used teargas to try and disperse the crowd, it said.

The 24 activists are to be detained for four days pending investigation of allegations of thuggery, attacking public employees, stealing wireless devices and protesting without permission from the Interior Ministry, said the source in the prosecutor's office.

Four women activists who had also been detained were released on a desert highway, said a security source.

Egypt has seen some of its worst civilian violence in decades since the army ousted a freely elected Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, in July following mass protests against his rule. The military has introduced a political roadmap meant to lead to elections next year.

Mursi's supporters have staged frequent protests across Egypt, many of them after Friday prayers, since the army deposed him on July 3 in response to mass protests against his rule.

BLOW TO FREEDOM

The new law restricting protests has angered some Egyptians and drawn fire from human rights groups who describe it as a blow to freedom in the most populous Arab country.

Liberals and activists who backed Mursi's overthrow are now becoming more vocal against the military, which has pursued a tough security crackdown against Islamists, in which hundreds have been killed and more than 2,000 arrested, including Mursi.

An Alexandria court jailed 14 women for 11 years on Wednesday for obstructing traffic during a pro-Mursi protest that took place late last month, judiciary sources said. Seven others under the age of 18 were sent to a juvenile prison.

Some 17 clerics linked to the Brotherhood were arrested in the Nile Delta town of Gharbeia for using mosques and sermons to incite worshippers against the army and police, MENA said.

The public prosecutor also transferred to a court two people seen as pro-Mursi, lawyer Mahmoud el-Khodeiry and Ahmed Mansour, a presenter on al-Jazeera satellite channel. They were accused of abducting and torturing a lawyer, MENA said.

Mohamed Fawaz, a member of the April 6 movement, told Reuters the new anti-protest law could lead to the "fall of the current regime" by igniting more unrest and public discontent.

"It is the Egyptian people's right since January 25 to protest and we are keen to maintain this right and fight for it until the last drop of blood," Fawaz said, referring to the date when the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak began in 2011.

Maher's April 6 movement and Abdel Fattah helped organize the vast demonstrations against Mubarak in Cairo's Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

'BATTLES AGAINST TERRORISM'

The government has shown no signs of caving in to growing pressure to scrap the anti-protest law.

Deputy Prime Minister Hossam Eissa said the cabinet was "committed to implementing the protest law strictly", while at the same time respecting freedom of expression.

"The Egyptian army is waging battles against terrorism, and some factions are trying to tamper with the status of the state and prevent it from observing its duties," he said.

Islamist militants based in the unruly Sinai Peninsula have stepped up attacks on security forces since Mursi was ousted. The Brotherhood denies any link to the militants, but the authorities lump them together as terrorists.

The government has said it is not opposed to peaceful protests and it wants to restore order in Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and is home to the Suez Canal.

The law will further squeeze the Brotherhood, which had hoped mass protests would reverse what it calls a military coup.

The restrictions have set off a public debate in Egypt, where demonstrations brought down Mubarak and encouraged army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to remove Mursi.

"This law is bad and the minister of interior has done enough and should change," said an engineer calling in to a discussion of the topic on state radio.

"Our penal law had many articles that they (the authorities) could have used to ban violent protests but instead they issued a new law that only brought us more protests and tension, a very stupid call."

The next person to dial in, a police officer, said: "What do people want? We either implement the law or not."

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Alistair Lyon)