Egyptians protest over blogger’s arrest

Alaa Abd El Fattah’s refusal to recognise military court leads to calls for military council to step down.

Egyptian soldiers
Alaa Abd El Fatah says army has no legitimacy to investigate him [Wikimedia Creative Commons license]

Egyptians are mobilising in support of Alaa Abd El Fattah, a blogger and activist who has imprisoned for 15 days after refusing to recognise a military court.

Abd El Fattah was taken in by military prosecutors on Sunday, but would not responds questions, asking for the case to be tried before a civilian court and saying the military’s investigation into a case in which its own forces are implicated was illegal.

The military accuses the blogger of inciting violence on October 9, in what has become known as the Maspiro massacre.

Abd El Fattah and other activists, however, say they are being used as scapegoats, and that the military should not be in charge of an investigation of a case in which its own forces are involved in the killing of at least 27 people, and the wounding of more than 200.

Bahaa Saber, another well-known activist, was also charged with inciting violence against the armed forces but, unlike Abd El Fattah, was released.

Wael Abbas, a prominent Egyptian blogger and friend of Abd El Fattah’s, said he has been opposed to the trial of civilians before military courts since the first cases began.

“Now as you can see, everyone is subjected to military trials, including journalists and bloggers,” he told Al Jazeera. “I think that the military council is becoming completely anti-revolutionary.”

International organisations including Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have raised similar questions.

Amnesty International, the UK-based rights group, on Monday called on the Egyptian authorities to stop trying civilians before military courts.

Another 28 civilians are believed to have been detained and charged on similar ground, in connection with the Maspero protests, according to the organisation.

“The Egyptian military was part of the violence which occurred during the Maspero protests and is also leading the investigation into the bloodshed,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement on Monday.

“Egypt’s military authorities must allow an independent investigation into these killings if they are serious about bringing those responsible to justice,” he said.

The CPJ also called for Abd El Fattah’s immediate and unconditional release, highlighting his outspoken criticism of the military regime on his blog. In an article for the independent daily Al-Shorouk on October 20, Abd El Fattah wrote about the time spent in the morgue with the families of those killed on October 9, the CPJ noted.

“It is the height of hypocrisy for the ruling military council, the self-proclaimed guardian of the revolution, to try to intimidate critical voices through military trials and contrived criminal charges, instead of addressing some of the fundamental questions they are raising,” Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, said in a statement.

“The military must release Abd el-Fattah immediately and drop all charges against him. Failure to do so belies claims that authorities have broken from the intimidation tactics of the past 30 years.”

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCARF) has focused its attention on demonstrators, rather than examining the role security forces played in the killings. Video of the events that day clearly showed army vehicles running over protesters, and others were shot when security forces opened fire.

Solidarity protests

Thousands of protesters rallied in support of the blogger on Monday, with more protests promised as long as he remained in detention.

His wife Manal was amongst those protesting. She is pregnant with a child the couple plans to call Khaled, after Khaled Said, the young man whose death at the hands of police pushed Egyptians out onto the streets.

In 2004, Abd El Fattah and Manal launched, one of first blogs in the Arab world. They are credited with helping to sow the seeds for the movement that would eventually push former president Hosni Mubarak from power.

Along with his cyberactivism, Abd El Fattah has also been an active participant in protests on the Egyptian street.

He was amongst those who led protests in Cairo against Mubarak’s regime in 2005 under the slogan of “Kifaya” (Arabic for “Enough”), which drew hundreds out on the streets, a considerable number at a time where public displays of dissent were rare.

There was an international campaign in his support after he was detained without charge for 45 days in 2006, after praising reformist judges and calling for a higher standard of election monitoring.

In keeping with his years of activism with broad-based, grassroots movements, protesters from across the political spectrum are this week rallying together to call for his release, drawing together Liberal, Islamist and Leftwing Egyptians.

The arrest of Abd El Fattah has inspired protests not only in Egypt, but also in Tunisia, where cyberactivists have often shared common causes with the Egyptian counterparts.

Dozens of Tunisians attended a protest in front of the Egyptian embassy in Tunisia on Monday.

Many friends and activists in Egypt and abroad changed their avatars on Twitter with a “Twibbon,” promoting #FreeAlaa. The Twitter hashtag has been trending both in Egypt and internationally.

On a separate case, Maikel Nabil, also a blogger, appeared before the military court on Tuesday afternoon. Nabil was also contesting the military’s right to prosecute civilians, but his case has attracted less support from activists. He has been on a hunger strike for 70 days.

“We had hoped that the army stands beside and support our revolution,” Nabil wrote in a statement on Facebook on Tuesday. “But, unfortunately the army chose to oppress our revolution and to fight and oppress revolutionaries.”

Only a handful of supporters gathered outside the courtroom in his trial, according to Al Jazeera’s Adam Makary.

Nabil is unpopular amongst other activists because of his views on Israel, as Wael Abbas confirmed.

“We didn’t take a very strong position after Maikel Nabil was sentenced because of his controversial views on Israel,” he said, noting this may be one of the reasons activists have been slow to react to the issue of military hearings.

Some 12,000 Egyptians have appeared before the military court in the months since Mubarak’s ouster in February.

Source: Al Jazeera