Thursday,15 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)
Thursday,15 November, 2018
Issue 1230, (22 - 28 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Little to celebrate

The fourth anniversary of the 25 January revolution is being marked by an escalation in terrorist attacks, writes Khaled Dawoud

Little to celebrate
Little to celebrate
Al-Ahram Weekly

The anniversary of the 25 January 2011 revolution is days away. Yet so far none of the so-called “revolutionary youth groups” has announced plans to mark the occasion.

Groups that were in the vanguard of the uprising that led to Hosni Mubarak’s removal are silent. They are chastened by a controversial protest law that has seen many of their colleagues imprisoned, wary of the public’s perception that now — when the country is engaged in a war on terror — is not the right time to hold street protests, and harassed by concerted media campaigns that have vilified the revolution.

The same cannot be said for suspected members of the Muslim Brotherhood and others who belong to more radical armed Islamist groups. They appear determined to mark the anniversary with an increase in terrorist attacks.

On Saturday and Sunday, say Interior Ministry officials, twelve attempts to detonate explosive devices on Egypt’s railway network were foiled. The thwarted attacks caused havoc across the railway system, with delays to trains to the south and across the Delta.

Only one bomb exploded, overturning a train that was sweeping the railway line between Ismailia and Suez ahead of a passenger train. The possibility that carriages carrying hundreds of passengers might be targeted remains a nightmare for security officials.

On Saturday 17 January terrorists blew up a gas pipeline close to the town of Dahshour, say security officials. The explosion caused a fire that lasted for hours and led to the evacuation of many residents. On the same day there was an electricity blackout in the Red Sea town of Hurghada, which was left without power for 12 hours after bombs exploded under two electricity pylons supplying the city.

Attacks against the power grid, gas pipelines and transport infrastructure are fast becoming the trademark of extremist groups seeking to undermine the state.

Police in Alexandria, known as a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, say they dismantled five bombs between Saturday and Sunday. The explosive devices had been placed in front of police stations, a bank and a train station.

A number of bombs were also detonated in North Sinai, the site of an ongoing confrontation between the army and armed militant groups since Mohamed Morsi was ousted on 3 July 2013.

Speaking at the official celebration to mark Police Day, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim described the spate of attacks as a “desperate move” by the Brotherhood and other terrorist organisations. He said he has every confidence that the police and army will defeat the terrorists.

The revolution, he told an audience which included President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, reiterating what now appears to be the state’s preferred narrative, began as a genuine protest by frustrated young Egyptians against Mubarak’s corrupt rule but was later “stolen” by the Brotherhood and supporters of other militant Islamic groups.

The radical youth groups that spearheaded the revolution chose Police Day four years ago to launch their uprising. Now the same groups complain that the deeply rooted state, consolidated over decades by the Mubarak regime, is making a comeback.

Television channels and newspapers owned by businessmen who were part and parcel of the Mubarak regime see the 30 June 2013 uprising against the Brotherhood as legitimising their demonisation of the 25 January Revolution.

It was the revolutionaries of 25 January, they claim, who opened the door to Brotherhood rule. The revolutionary youth groups are routinely vilified as foreign agents who conspired with the US to spread chaos and divide the Arab world.

Most serious analysts agree that the anti-Mubarak protests of 2011 were spearheaded by secular, revolutionary youth movements. Muslim Brotherhood leaders, always cautious, shied away from backing the call for demonstrations on 25 January 2011. The Brotherhood only ordered its members to head to Tahrir Square after it became clear that the Mubarak regime had been weakened and was ready to fall.

Activists who took part in the 2011 uprising and returned to the streets in 2013 to protest against the Brotherhood and reclaim the original goals of the 25 January revolution feel doubly betrayed. They find themselves condemned in the media.

Many are behind bars for defying the controversial protest law, approved by the government in late 2013, ostensibly to confront violent daily demonstrations by Brotherhood supporters, but quickly used to subdue all protests.

Activists and human rights groups claim the protest law, which requires organisers of any demonstration to first secure a permit from the Interior Ministry, is a direct attack on freedom of assembly.

Khaled Ali, a leftist lawyer and presidential candidate in 2012, won a case in front of the Administrative Court questioning the constitutionality of the protest law yet it remains in force. The Supreme Constitutional Court announced earlier this month that it will look into the case.

Sixth April Movement leader Abdel-Aziz Abdo says one reason youth groups are worried about marking the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution is their experience a year ago. Tahrir Square was taken over for an Interior Ministry-sponsored official celebration at which some participants raised pictures of Mubarak.

Meanwhile, police chased members of revolutionary youth groups through the streets of downtown Cairo to prevent them from holding their own demonstration. Over 100 were arrested and one young man, Sayed Wezza, was shot dead.

After repeated appeals by political parties, human rights organisations and leading columnists, Al-Sisi told reporters accompanying him to the United Arab Emirates on Monday that he would soon pardon activists “who might have been held unjustly or committed small mistakes,” a gesture intended to mark the fourth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution and ease tensions ahead of parliamentary elections due to be held in March.

It is not clear how many will be released but the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said last week it has compiled a list of nearly 200 activists, sentenced or detained for violating the protest law, who were not involved in any acts of violence. Local media reports suggest the number who will be released is likely to be between 60 and 70.

In his own speech to mark Police Day, Al-Sisi reiterated his longstanding view that this is not the time to hold demonstrations. “We are very keen to protect human rights, more than anyone,” Al-Sisi said, in apparently improvised remarks.

“But I tell those who come to talk to me about human rights, what about the rights of millions of Egyptians who need education, health and jobs? There are 90 million Egyptians, 40 percent of them in need.

“Where are the rights of those people? We should not limit human rights to freedom of expression. We must all work together to make our country better.”

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