Egypt Cracks Down on Dissent

Egyptian human rights groups say about 360 people have been arrested over the past three weeks in what many are calling the biggest crackdown on political dissent in recent memory.  Most of the arrests have taken place at protests in support of two fraud-busting judges who have become symbols of judicial independence and the push for political reform.  

Hundreds of demonstrators chanting slogans faced off last week against thousands of riot police and plainclothes State Security officers responding with fists and batons.

Scores of protesters were dragged off into police vehicles, becoming the latest to be arrested in a police crackdown that has lasted more than three weeks.

Anti-government street protests were unheard of in Cairo just a few years ago, but they have become relatively commonplace since the end of 2004, with the birth of the reform movement known as Kifaya, an Arabic word meaning "enough."

Mohammed El-Sayed Sa'id is both a senior member of Kifaya and a deputy director of the state-run Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

"It is my belief that the state really has been waiting for the right moment to roll back some of the gains achieved by Kifaya and other reform movements ...   And I do believe that the first priority for the police state is to roll back the right to rally, and to kill it," Sa'id says. "This is why they showed such a level of determination, and they are obviously willing to go all the way, filling Egyptian jails with reform activists."

The arrests have targeted protesters who have taken to the streets in support of two pro-reform judges who face a disciplinary hearing and could lose their jobs because they went public with allegations of fraud in last year's parliamentary elections.  They have become a symbol for the pro-reform movement.

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights says about 360 people have been arrested over the last three weeks.  But organization board member Gasser Abdel-Razek says the crackdown appears to have been designed to scare people away from protests and sit-ins in support of the judges.

"They could have defused this a long time ago," he says. "I think their analysis was if they start arresting people, people will not go back on the streets.  They started the new wave of arrests on the 24th of April thinking that people will not be showing up on the streets to support the judges on the 27th.  Yet people were there on the 27th and again on the 11th, and it does not seem that people are going back home."

On the contrary, he says, it may have actually galvanized the fragmented reform movement.  The protest last Thursday was the biggest in months.

Until recently Egypt appeared to be on the road to democratic reforms. 

Last year, President Hosni Mubarak for the first time allowed other candidates on the presidential election ballot.  He allowed street protests calling for an end to his rule.  The banned Muslim Brotherhood was allowed to field an unprecedented number of candidates in the parliamentary poll.

But the arrest of the protesters is just one sign that Egypt's short-lived era of political reforms may be over. 

Ayman Nour, the opposition candidate who placed a distant second in last year's presidential election, is in jail, sentenced to five years for forgery after what many see as a flawed, politically charged trial.  The government postponed municipal elections for two years.  President Mubarak recently renewed the restrictive emergency law, which he had pledged during his election campaign to repeal.

Georgetown University professor Samer Shehata, an expert in Egyptian politics, says all those issues are connected.

"And I think all of this is related, and all of this has to be understood as a general closing of political space in Egypt over the last four or five months, contrasted with what we saw at the end of 2004 and generally in 2005, which was political liberalization, an opening up of political space and promises by the regime of political reform," Shehata says.

One thing the Kifaya movement and its offshoots say they have done is opened the door for freedom of expression, political dissent, and previously unheard-of criticism of the president.

But Shehata says the gains may not ne long lived.

"These gains are not irreversible," he says. "They might be harder to take back, and there might be some friction involved, as we are seeing now.  But there is no inexorable logic in the march to democracy, that leads all of us inevitably [to] an end state of democratic politics ... and unfortunately, they are not irreversible."

The pro-reform activists are planning a number of new protests before the end of the month, in support of the judges. 

A major showdown was expected Thursday, when the judges' disciplinary hearing had been scheduled to resume.  But one of the judges, Hisham Bastawisy, had a heart attack and is still in the hospital, so it is not clear what will happen with either the trial or the demonstrations that were expected to accompany it.  

The interior ministry issued a statement Tuesday making it very clear that demonstrations without permits will not be tolerated.  And so organizers and activists are expecting more arrests.  

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs