On the first anniversary of the arrest of 23 protesters, including seven women, in front of the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace, activists organized a female-only protest on Sunday evening to call for their release.
The protest started at around 5 pm on Sunday in front of the palace, lasting for roughly an hour and demanding the release of detainees under the slogan, “Ramadan without them is not the same.”
“Not a bad turnout, but every minute is argued for,” novelist Ahdaf Soueif commented on Twitter, adding that “police and their baltagi [plain-clothed thugs] colleagues” were pushing male journalists around and pressuring the women to end their protest.
According to estimates by human rights organizations, more than 40,000 people have been arrested under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government. Amid an increasing crackdown on the street movement, activists have utilized women’s protests in recent months as a tactic to reduce the chances of heavy arrests.
“We are a society where male superiority prevails, and we’re using this,” lawyer Yasmine Hossam al-Din explained.
Hossam al-Din told Mada Masr that women are less likely to be accused of terrorism and other violent charges that are usually tied to protests. She added that there is more sympathy toward protesters when they’re female due to the nature of Egyptian society, hence the police may be forced to think twice before intervening.
Arrests during protests at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace last year, however, proved that this is not a foolproof strategy.
On June 21, 2014 — declared an international day of solidarity with Egyptian detainees — the police quickly dispersed a protest that took place in front of Ettehadiya. Twenty-three people were sentenced to three years in prison, which was then reduced to two years on appeal in December 2014. The detainees in this case included human rights defender Yara Sallam and activist Sanaa Seif.
“There are continued attempts for action, because people don’t want to give up and want those in prison to know that they haven’t been forgotten,” said Aida Seif al-Dawla, head of Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.
Last week, a group of eight women held a protest in front of Ettehadiya against forced disappearances. After being cordoned by security forces for two hours, they were released.
A women’s protest was also held in January on Talaat Harb Street, when protester Shaimaa al-Sabbagh was killed while commemorating the 2011 revolution. Dozens of women participated in this protest.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) issued a statement on Sunday demanding the immediate release of the 23 Ettehadiya protesters, asserting that the Protest Law passed in November 2013 violates Egypt’s obligations under international law.
“The Egyptian authorities must end their campaign to silence human rights defenders and all those suspected of opposing the military and the government through politically motivated prosecutions and trials,” said Said Benarbia, director of the ICJ’s Middle East and North Africa program.
Activist Ola Shahba, who said she would participate in Sunday’s protest, highlighted the dangers of all street movements in the current political climate, despite reducing the threat by staging women’s protests.
“We have the right to try something to move the current stagnation and remind people about the detainees, and we try to use tactics to make it safer,” Shahba said, adding, “Maybe we are willing to take the risk because protesters were arrested from among us in the past.”