On the eve of the revolution’s anniversary, the state cajoles and intimidates
 
 
Courtesy: Mohamed Gamal
 

The recent period has seen some conciliatory gestures on the part of the Egyptian state that some analysts have linked to calls for taking to the streets on the fifth anniversary of the revolution. Injured student Esraa al-Taweel was released, over 50 civilians who had disappeared and turned out to be in Azouly Prison have been released, and two figures associated with the Brotherhood, Saad al-Katatni and Magdi Qorqor, have been transferred to Tora Prison Hospital after repeated demands in view of their deteriorating health condition. After months when relatives could not visit prisoners at Aqrab Prison, they have been allowed to visit and bring in some medication, clothes and food.

 

Parallel to this, however, are some not-so-conciliatory moves. Just a few days ago Minister of Interior Magdi Abdel Ghaffar endorsed the transfer and promotion of a number of senior national security officials — a move also linked by some analysts to the approach of the fifth anniversary of the revolution. Security forces arrested four members of the April 6 Youth Movement, who were transferred to Dokki prosecution, which ordered their detention for 15 days on charges of illegal protests and belonging to a banned organization.

Human rights lawyer and member of the Strong Egypt Party Mohamed al-Baqer recognizes a clear concern regarding the coming anniversary of the revolution, and says the same precautionary measures have been repeated since 2013.

Baqer explains that the authorities are releasing some detainees to win over public opinion at large, while arresting others that will only affect smaller circles. This is an old method, he adds – opening up public space to some degree to obtain public support and then closing it down again.

In view of the random arrests, detentions and disappearances of young people from different places in recent days, Baqer issued some advice on his Facebook page. He warned members of the Brotherhood and April 6 movement and anybody who has been part of a political court case to take precautionary measures, such as changing their place of residence. He also suggested they review anything on their mobile phones that indicates a position of opposition to the regime, as well as pictures or videos, until the anniversary of the revolution has passed.

Walid Shawky, member of the politburo of the April 6 Youth Movement says, “They are arresting people who might be a source of threat or trouble. The regime learned from the January 25 experience, and it will not leave anything to chance. That is why it is taking preventive action.”

Shawky adds that the charges against the arrested young men are laughable, since neither they nor the movement have any relation to the march they are accused of calling for. Shawky adds that security bodies realize that anger is rising because of the thousands of people unjustly detained and killed, as well as the deterioration in the economic situation.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi used his speech on the anniversary of the Prophet Mohamed in December to speak against potential demonstrations on the anniversary. Rabab al-Mahdi, researcher and professor of political science at AUC, points to Sisi’s declaration that he would not leave unless all the Egyptian people demand it, which she says is impossible and did not even happen with his predecessors Hosni Mubarak or Mohamed Morsi.

His mere hinting at the issue indicates some fear, however, she says, because the possibility of that happening actually worries the regime. It is clear, she adds, that he is receiving security reports indicating escalating popular anger because of the closure of the political and economic spheres. That is why his speech is a mixture of intimidation and appeal, she explains.

Mahdi says that what appears as a contradiction is, in fact, not so. Any authoritarian regime builds on oppression and appeal using political and economic tools. A very oppressive regime might make some economic concessions to keep itself in power.

However, Mahdi notes, the Sisi regime is unable to provide any economic “tranquillizers”, so it is using political rhetoric to both calm and intimidate. He releases individuals, addressing local and international public opinion, to send a message: “We don’t do this, and we don’t have forced disappearances nor detainees.”

However, on the other hand, because they realize their failure and people’s increased realization of that failure, they are taking precautionary measures.

She adds that in the aftermath of revolutions there is a constant fear of a possible explosion of anger at any moment. And any calls for protests constitute a threat, since they resemble the calls for the first January, which in their turn were not official, and their advocates were not known to the regime at the time.

 

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About a month ago, a group of activists issued a call for demonstrations on the revolution’s anniversary through a Facebook event. About 50,000 people indicated their attendance.

The point is to reclaim the revolution and to realize the revolution’s goals, one of the organizers told Mada Masr.

“We took to the streets during January 25 against Mubarak and on June 30 against Morsi. We participated and called for the protests and I was a member of the Tamarod movement,” he said. “But then what happened was a coup against the January revolution, so that is why we split from Tamarod and decided to continue the path of the revolution.”

The Sisi regime resulted in collapse of the economy, the activist says, adding that his rule became totally military, with ministers and governors all military men. He adds that the media is in unified support of the president’s brainwashing, while any media person from the opposition is either arrested or forced to emigrate or stop working.

The activist says he is aware of the risks of calling for protests, but explains, “There is nothing left to mourn. In any case, the regime kills and detains our friends. I was afraid that if we kept the invitation anonymous that people would be suspicious and think we are security, which has come to control the whole political scene.”

After issuing the invitation, he says he received threats from individuals affiliated to the security apparatus.

He expects the day to be different from the anniversary of the revolution in the last two years because, as he sees it, the popularity of the regime is on the decline, while mistrust is increasing because of deteriorating economic conditions and the increase in police oppression.

He believes that the Sisi regime is terrified and that these calls for protests constitute a real crisis for him and his regime, pointing to his speech and attempts to take precautionary measures to intimidate or contain the anger as evidence.

“The regime’s violence is trying to draw the youth towards violence, but our calls are peaceful,” he says. “We shall topple Sisi, as we toppled his teacher Mubarak.”

Leftist political activist Khaled Abdel Hamid will not be taking part in the demonstrations on the fifth anniversary of the revolution, however. While he agrees with the reasons behind them, the problem with those calls, he says, is that they are abstract calls, not based on any political organization.

Abdel Hamid says the groups of radical revolution still need to organize themselves, learning lessons from previous years and reaching a consensus as to the form, methods and slogans necessary to face the counterrevolution, which is a difficult matter and needs time. Despite the nobility of those calls for the overthrow of despotism and those behind it, he does not believe that it will add anything new to the problems of what he calls “the camp for radical democracy” or “the camp of the revolution.”

That is why he decided not to participate in the demonstrations, but will go on different paths to engage and build new tactics for the same camp.

While one of the activists behind the Facebook event expects a large turnout, Abdel Hamid predicts a similar day to that on April 6, 2008, including a state of panic and fear that will paralyze the state, with the occurrence of some clashes in different locations.

Baqer, human rights lawyer and member of Strong Egypt, does not expect this anniversary to be any different from the last one, characterized by demonstrations of small numbers of people, met with wide-scale random arrests.

Baqer says that he has not seen any real or official call for the fifth anniversary of the revolution, either from Islamists or from civil groups. All he has seen are personal invitations and efforts without any clear organizational aspect. He also sees clear media panic, probably because of the lack of any official statements regarding the day, especially on channels supporting the regime. It is because of this lack of clarity that the regime is taking precautionary security measures.

And since the Brotherhood and the April 6 movement are the ones capable of mobilizing the street, they are especially targeted, he says.

But Shawky, of the April 6 politburo, believes that revolutionary political groups such as April 6, Strong Egypt, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Revolutionary Front are no longer capable of leading the street, although the April 6 movement still has some influence among the youth.

April 6 is still considering its position in relation to demonstrations on January 25, he says, which is also the case for the other political forces, including the Brotherhood, despite its general call for protests and the continuation of the revolution.

He expects incidents on the day and expects security forces to react violently. He explains this confusion in the attitude of the authorities in terms of disagreements between different state institutions, or speculates that it may be just to test people’s reactions, or because there is no integrated, clear decision-making process. But, however much the regime cracks down, he says, there will always be developments that are out of its control. 

Similarly, analyst Mahdi does not expect a role for political groups regarding these calls for demonstration. They no longer enjoy any weight or decisive role in moving the street, she says. Actually, those political entities were never directing developments in the situation, she points out.

But weak security authorities still believe that movements such as the April 6 movement or the Muslim Brotherhood organization are able to move the street and therefore target their members, she says.

If any of these groups were strong enough, she points out, they would have been able to free their detainees. Security authorities only have a number of names, which they believe are a source of threat and are capable of mobilizing the street. And since the regime does not know “where the next blow will be coming from, it takes precautionary measures and rounds up those it knows.”

It is not the absence of official endorsement of calls to protest on the part of political groups that will deprive these calls of concrete outcomes, she says. “Rather, it is the absence of an alternative to the regime. Revolutions and uprisings are an outcome of a collective consciousness, and as long as there is no alternative, political action will remain among political circles and the masses will not risk paying a high price.”

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Hadeer El-Mahdawy