More than three years have passed since the popular protests led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak, which ruled Egypt under an iron fist. Nonetheless the architects of the revolution are behind bars today.
With the military coup, the first democratically elected government was violently ousted and the post-coup demonstrations resulted with the death over 1,000 unarmed demonstrators and many detained. Human rights groups, journalists' associations, and other organizations have documented abuses by Egypt's police and security forces, including the use of excessive force, mass arrests, and the torture and killing of those who dissent.
One of the means to sustain the authoritarian rule has been the anti-protest law. On November 24, 2013, President Adly Mansour, Egypt's Interim President, approved Law 107-2013, known as the "anti-protest legislation." The law banned any unsanctioned gatherings – either in public or in private – of 10 or more people, and will give the police the final say on whether a protest can take place.1 According to Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; 'the fact that the law criminalizes acts by demonstrators which may breach 'security and public order,' without clearly defining these terms, leaves the door open to a very restrictive and repressive interpretation'.2
Mahienour El-Massry is one of the activists that have been sent to prison under this law. Mahienour was part of the initial groupvof activists named 6th of April Movement. The April 6 Youth Movement began in the spring of 2008 as a Facebook group expressing support for workers protesting in the industrial city of Al-Mahalla Al-Kurba. It had continuously increasing number of supporters and grew enormously after it launched the campaign calling for a trial of police who tortured Khalid Said to death. Said was beaten to death by two police officers in June 2010 after being dragged from a local Internet cafe from his neighborhood in Alexandria. The murder of Khaled Said in June 2010 had contributed to the growing anger that eventually boiled over into the Egyptian Revolution.
Mahienour is one of the best-known women activists in Egypt. At the age of 26, she is a human rights lawyer. On 20 May, Mahienour was sentenced alongside eight other activists to two years in prison and a fine of EGP 50,000 (roughly $7,000). The defendants were charged with violating the protest law, which requires all street protests and gatherings to be registered with the ministry of interior; assaulting a police officer; blocking the road and destroying a police vehicle.
Her imprisonment is one of the examples of the systematic attempts to suppress opposition by using the repressive protest law. Philip Luther, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International pointed out that there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that Mahinour El-Masry was involved in violence against the security forces.3
Mahinour's experiences in the Alexandria prison shows us about the dynamics of the Egyptian current. In a letter she pointed out "my fellow inmates are not corrupt businessmen as we mostly think, but poor Egyptian women who could not pay off their debts".4 After receiving the news on her imprisonment "We don't like jails, but we are not afraid of them," said Mahienour defiantly. "The state keeps imagining that with its laws, prisons and dogs it can protect itself. But even if you gather all of us in prison, the revolution will continue."
Democratic rights in Egypt
Amnesty International has continually called on Egyptian authorities to annul the protest law. The protest law permits the Egyptian authorities to disable demonstrations and gives security forces the right to use force, including firearms, against peaceful protesters. Apart from Muslim Brotherhood members, it targets every aspect of opposition against the regime.
The law can be seen as a part of the authoritarian policies of the military regime and is a clear message that there is no space for activism in Egypt today. The right to hold and assemble demonstrations and protest is a vital component of a democratic society. The Tahrir Movement was praised for achieving this most fundamental aspiration of the Egyptian people. But one thing that the authorities seem to forget is that in Egyptian politics despite the repressive nature of the Egyptian state, political opposition has always arose in numerous contexts like syndicates, political parties, leftists, human rights groups and a popular Islamism. The same authoritarian motives that carried repressive l
aws before was removed in the 2011 revolution. "The increasing repression only feeds our anger, not despair which is what the regime seeks,"5 veteran rights activist Aida Seif al-Dawla told Anadolu Agency from the sit-in.
The Tahrir Movement had opened up a world of boundless potentials, and people went to the streets to demand them. The scale and the character were unexpected and have transformed the political sphere in Egypt. Tahrir has become the national symbol for dignity. It is too early to say that the spring is over in Egypt and it would be wrong to squeeze the revolution in a certain period of time. The movement was not about gaining seats in the parliament it was about transforming the authoritarian nature of Egyptian politics.
Today authoritarianism remains in Egypt but it should be remembered that it was the millions that went to the square to topple down the corrupt regime. The faithful activists loyal to their struggle for liberty in Egypt are insisting on democracy. They are supported by many human rights activists around the World. However in Egypt their call is being answered with increasing oppression and detainment. Those were the people who wanted to build a better future without restraint and they have gained the confidence to do so. The vicious circle of authoritarian politics in Egypt will be transformed with this confidence.
1 Egypt's interim president Adly Mansour signs 'anti-protest law', http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/egypt-interim-president-anti-protest law
2 New anti-demonstration law in Egypt must be amended, urges UN rights chief, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46589#.U7KsYo1_um4
3 Human rights lawyer latest victim of Egypt's repressive protest law, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news/human-rights-lawyer-latest-victim-egypt-s-repressive-protest-law-2014-06-27
4 Mahienour El-Massry refuses 'any kind of amnesty' from the government, http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/06/11/mahienour-el-massry-refuses-kind-amnesty-government/
5 Egypt female activists sit-in held outside Cairo court, http://euroasianews.com/egypt-female-activists-sit-in-held-outside-cairo-court/
* Research Assistant at POMEAS