Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A protest's multiple messages

A march organised by the opposition against the protest law, may have been ignored by the authorities but it shed light on shifts within the younger generation of opposition groups, writes Amira Howeidy

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Al-Ahram Weekly
The three-hour long demonstration was the first in nine months – or since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster - that so many protestors had approached the presidential palace in east Cairo. The bulk of the demonstrators, who on Saturday marched the less than three kilometers between Qasr El-Koba metro station and El-Ithadeya - interim president Adli Mansour’s headquarters - had rallied with millions across Egypt on 30 June against Morsi’s unrevolutionary course.  Four days later the military deposed Morsi, declared a roadmap and installed an interim government and president to oversee its implementation.
 
Egypt hasn’t been the same since and the already two-year long post revolution secular-Islamist polarization began cutting deeper into the political spectrum. As the confrontation between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, on one hand, and the military on the other, reached dangerous levels the non-Islamist revolutionary camp which had rallied for the 25 January uprising in 2011 found itself increasingly isolated, stigmatized for refusing to take sides.
 
After long months of fragmentation and lack of political direction this all too often divided bloc has at last found a cause on which it can agree. Opposition to the protest law, which practically bans demonstrations, is uniting them. The law to regulate protests was issued in November despite being rejected by the vast majority of political parties. Its implementation was swift and the numbers of those detained under its provisions is growing. They include activists of all political affiliations, not least a host of leading figures from the 2011 uprising.
 
Rights activists and lawyers are hard put to keep track of the arrests. Estimates of those detained for allegedly violating the law vary between the hundreds to thousands.
 
Following a wave of mass arrests during the third anniversary of the January uprising some members of the Third Way bloc formed the Freedom to the Brave campaign to lobby for the release of all detainees regardless of their political affiliation.  Five months later and a series of prison sentences - from three to seven years – have been handed down to activists and students alike for protesting, leading yet more political forces to voice opposition to a law which is now seen as a tool to silence all forms of peaceful dissent.
 
Hundreds heeded the call to march to the Itihadiya presidential palace in Heliopolis to press for the repeal of the law and the release of prisoners. Protestors chanted against Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi - the former minister of defence who resigned to stand in the presidential elections, which he is likely to win - and Morsi. Chants from 2011 and 2012 - including “Down with the military rule” and “the people want the fall of the regime” – were reprieved.
 
By eight the demonstration was over. Protestors began to leave the area around the palace which had been sealed with barbed wire and rows of central security forces to prevent them getting too close. No one was arrested and the protest is unlikely to have much impact on the direction of policy or on public opinion. Two days later a court banned activities by 6 April Movement with few voices raised against the decision. Yet the protest did reveal shifts inside what remains of the 30 June camp which was more or less united behind the military only nine months ago. For the first time the popular socialist coalition which supported the military during and after Morsi’s ouster was siding against the interim regime.
 
Participants included members of presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi’s popular current, Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fottouh’s Strong Egypt Party, the Revolutionary Socialists, 6 April and the Dostour (Constitution) Party, founded by Mohamed El-Baradei.
 
The leaders of these parties were conspicuously absent and insiders say that was not a coincidence. El-Dostour’s new leader leader Hala Shukrallah was reluctant to take part, out of fear that more party members would have been arrested but also because the party leadership had reservations about Aboul-Fottouh’s Strong Egypt Party’s participation.
 
“There is no place for senior opposition figures who emerged under [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak in these protests anymore,” says Mohamed Osman, a leader in the Strong Egypt Party. “Something has changed. It is as if an entire generation is retreating and a new one is rising.”
 
The march wrapped up a week of smaller events against the protest law initiated by Nourhan Hefzi, wife of jailed activist and blogger Ahmed Douma. She had called for a sit in at the presidential palace to demand her husband’s release. Hefzi was joined by a group of women, including the mother and sister of prominent activist Alaa Abdel-Fatah who was arrested in November and released a month ago.
 

The sit in allowed for a lengthy debate about ways to lobby against the protest law. Initially Hefzi was against the participation of Muslim Brotherhood members or supporters but reversed her position after other activists insisted all opposition to the draconian law should be welcomed. There were no visible Brotherhood slogans or signs during the protest but some female protestors carried banners demanding the release of female students from Al-Azhar University, some of whom are members of the organisation which was designated a terrorist group in December.

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