Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

What’s in a day?

The anniversary of the 25 January Revolution has become a day of fear rather than celebration, writes Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 22 December 2011, ahead of the first anniversary of the uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, the daily Al-Ahram announced in a front-page headline: “Plot to carry out acts of destruction and arson on the 25 January anniversary foiled.”

The privately owned daily, Al-Shorouk, carried the same story, which originated with the state-owned Middle East News Agency (MENA). It opted for the headline “Sovereign agencies reveal plot to set the country on fire on 25 January and topple the state.”

During Mubarak’s three decades in office, the term “sovereign agencies” was used to refer to either the presidency or the General Intelligence Authority — the Mukhabarat.

At the time, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, commander of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), was Egypt’s de facto president. The highly placed security sources quoted by MENA said, “Contacts monitored by security agencies reveal coordination between local parties and foreign elements ... to trigger a new revolution, the aim of which is to trigger bloody clashes with the Armed Forces.”

The real goal of the foiled “new revolution”, according to the same security sources, was “to spark a civil war between the people and the army that could then be used as a pretest for the deployment of foreign troops in Egypt”.

Whether under SCAF, Mohamed Morsi, interim president Adli Mansour or President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, the authorities have always been wary of the anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

Activists who took part in the 18-day uprising against Mubarak, and continue to defend it as one of the most significant events in Egypt’s modern history, say marking its anniversary has been getting more difficult by the year.

 Opponents of the revolution at some private television channels constantly repeat the claims made by Mubarak supporters — that the 25 January Revolution was a foreign plot aimed at dividing Egypt and the Arab world and handing power to the Muslim Brotherhood.

No clashes took place between soldiers and the thousands of peaceful demonstrators who turned out to mark the first anniversary of the revolution. There were no fires, no collapse of the state and no foreign forces were deployed.

Mohamed Morsi was in office for the second anniversary of the revolution. Seeking to consolidate its grip on power, the Muslim Brotherhood opposed any display of public disquiet. Fulfilling the demands of the revolution, it said, was no longer the concern of the people but of the newly elected parliament, in which it had won a large majority.

In 2012 there were no celebrations in the streets. Instead there were fires and clouds of tear gas as Brotherhood opponents, protesting Morsi’s policies and the release of a constitutional declaration on 22 November that placed presidential decisions beyond judicial review, clashed with police.

Widespread popular protests against the Brotherhood on 30 June 2013 led to Morsi’s ouster four days later.

The spike in terrorism that followed Morsi’s removal eventually allowed the security agencies to move against all forms of public protest. Now, according to the latest edict issued by Minister of Religious Endowments Mokhtar Gomaa, public protest is prohibited under sharia. A Protest Law, ratified in 2013, imposes up to five years in prison on those who take part in protests that have not been sanctioned by the Interior Ministry.

On 25 January 2014, riot police chased the few hundred protesters who had gathered in front of the Press Syndicate in downtown Cairo to mark the third anniversary of the revolution with armoured vehicles and tear gas. Sayed Abdallah, a member of the 6 April Movement that played a key role in the revolution against Mubarak, was shot dead. He was killed, say his friends and family, by the police.

There were no reporters nearby when Abdallah was shot, and no police officers were charged for his death. This was not the case on 24 January 2015, however, when Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh, a 30-year-old mother, was killed by an anti-riot officer in Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo.

Many cameras were trained on the gathering in which Sabbagh was taking part alongside other members of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party. They intended to commemorate the revolution by placing flowers in Tahrir Square, and had chosen to do so on 24 January, rather than the 25th, to avoid charges that they were in cahoots with the Brotherhood, which had announced it was planning violent demonstrations.

A police officer was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for unlawfully killing Sabbagh. The sentence is currently being appealed.

For the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, the Brotherhood has again called for demonstrations across Egypt. The group’s official spokesman, Mohamed Montasser, has warned of “stunning surprises” awaiting the “military coup authorities”.

Empty threats, say analysts. The Brotherhood has made them before, and nothing has happened, and this time round the group is more divided than at any time in its history.

Military and Interior Ministry officials have announced plans to deter any possible protests on 25 January, including armed reinforcements to defend police stations across the country. Clearly, memories are fresh of the way police stations were attacked and burned by angry protesters five years ago, and on 25 January, officially branded National Police Day by the Mubarak regime.

There has been an ongoing security crackdown. Members of the 6th April Movement, and other young activists who might have considered planning protests on the fifth anniversary of the revolution, have been detained.

At least a dozen young men have been arrested over the past two weeks and charged with belonging to an illegal organisation, the 25 January Youth Movement, and a member of the Doctors’ Syndicate, Taher Mokhtar, is among those caught in the general round-up.

Activists deny the existence of a 25 January Youth Movement. They also point to the irony of how just mentioning a date that was once celebrated is enough to indict people on criminal charges.

One young activist, who requested anonymity, finds the hysteria surrounding the day laughable.

“We don’t need to protest on 25 January,” he said.” We will let the day go and chose some other date. It doesn’t have to be 25 January, or 11 February [the day Mubarak resigned]. History doesn’t follow such a strict script.

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